Following on from the number 1 rule “UIOLIBDAI” in “Should I do exercises with lower back pain / sciatica?“, the answer to “Which are the best exercises for sciatica?” could simply be “Any exercises that don’t increase your pain immediately or within the next 24 hours”. But let’s dive a bit deeper than that.
There are different causes of sciatica. Remember sciatica is a description and not a diagnosis. From an exercise and movement perspective, sciatica falls into 3 groups.
- Flexion Intolerant
- Extension Intolerant
Flexion Intolerant Sciatica
If your sciatic pain is worse sitting, after sitting, bending forwards, or returning from bending forwards it is described as “Flexion Intolerant” and is likely to benefit from back-bending exercises.
Extension Intolerant Sciatica
If your sciatic pain is worse standing, after standing, bending backwards, or on returning from bending backwards it is described as “Extension Intolerant” and is likely to benefit from – you guessed it – forward-bending exercises.
If both movements – forward-bending and back-bending – aggravate your sciatic pain or if neither of them affects your pain, your sciatica would be described as “Unspecified”, and I simply encourage you to try exercises but be governed by the UIOLIBDAI rule.
Back-bending Exercises for Flexion Intolerant Sciatica
Prone Extension Level 2
Prone Extension – Hips offset
Forward-bending Exercises for Extension Intolerant Sciatica
General Sciatica Exercises
This exercise is important if you are in danger of a piece of disc/scar tissue tethering one of your sciatic nerve roots.
The above exercises are all what I would describe as “Relievers” i.e. they are intended to relieve your pain. However they are not terribly helpful at preventing recurrence. There’s much more on prevention in our online course for lower back and and sciatica. Or in my latest book on lower back pain and sciatica.