November 22

Exercises to Relieve Sciatica Don’t Work. Here’s Why.

Exercise is one of the first things doctors will have us perform to relieve sciatica pain. They say you need to exercise the weaker muscles to keep the pain away; Yet, most of us tend to feel minimal to zero relief from this treatment. The biggest reason for this is that exercising a muscle will not eliminate the pain; it helps prevent the pain from returning. Learn how to get rid of the pain and when to exercise to keep the pain away.


Why Exercising to Relieve Sciatica Relief is Wrong

To understand why exercising doesn't help eliminate the pain but rather keep it from returning, we need to look at how the body creates sciatica.

Sciatica can be caused by many things like a car accident, our posture, or even genetics; But because the body reacts similarly to pain, regardless of how you got it, sciatica can be simplified into irritation of the sciatic nerve. The most common type of sciatic nerve irritation is compression from surrounding structures like disks and muscles. If you ever had a herniated disk or piriformis syndrome, you should know what I'm talking about.

What Causes Compression?

Compression on the sciatic nerve can be caused mostly by muscles, whether it's directly on the sciatic nerve (like piriformis syndrome) or by pulling on bones and discs (herniated discs). This is important to keep in mind because if you are having sciatica pain, muscles are playing a role to create compression.

But why would a muscle start compressing on the nerve out of nowhere? It's because there's a muscle imbalance creating that compression.

Muscle Imbalance

Every one of our muscles has a partner muscle that performs the opposite action. The biceps flex the arm, the triceps extend it. The quads extend the knee, and the hamstrings flex it. This muscle partnership is how we can move bones around joints, like flexing the arm and extending it around the elbow.

But when we use one muscle more than the other, say performing more bicep curls than tricep pulldowns; Then you end up developing a muscle imbalance within those muscles. This muscle imbalance is a tight muscle (bicep), a weak muscle (tricep), and an altered joint (the elbow).

Once again, a muscle imbalance is a combination of tight muscles and weak muscles that sometimes shifts joints out of place.

So, to bring it back to sciatica. Most of us will develop sciatica pain because there will be a combination of tight muscles and weak muscles within our body that is either compressing on the sciatic nerve or shifting a joint out of place that then compresses on the sciatic nerve.

So Why is Exercise Wrong to Relieve Sciatica? (Remember The whole point of the Article)

If you started with exercises to help reverse your sciatica pain, then you are attempting to train the weaker muscle within the muscle imbalance while its counterpart is still tight. Another way to think about it is; if you don't address the tight muscle before the weak muscles, you will be playing a tug of war game with your own body and losing every time.

The First "Real" Step to Relieve Sciatica Pain

The first thing you must do to relieve sciatica is to relax the tight muscles using self-massage tools and stretching. Without releasing the tight muscles, the weaker muscle you are trying to exercise will not fully contract and develop the strength it needs to make a change.

Once you can relax the tight muscles, the joint it's attached to can move freely and return to its original, pain-free position.

And now that the joint is back in place where it should be, you then exercise the weaker muscle so the joint can stay in place.


By releasing the tight muscles first, you can help relax the muscles compressing on the sciatic nerve. On top of that, by relaxing the tight muscle first, the joint or disc pressing on the sciatic nerve can now decompress and move back to its original position. And now that the tight muscle is relaxed and the joint is back in place, you can finally exercise the weaker muscles to prevent the joint or tight muscle from compressing back on the sciatic nerve.

About the author 


Adam is the owner of Train and Massage and has earned multiple certifications including Human Movement Specialist, Certified Massage Therapist, Certified Personal Trainer, Corrective Exercise Specialist, and More.

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