Sciatica, or pain that radiates from the lower back down the leg, is a common symptom of lumbar disc herniation. While rest and medications can help provide temporary relief from acute sciatica flares, exercise is key for long-term management. A progressive exercise plan focused on stretching, strengthening, and stabilizing the core muscles can help reduce pressure on the sciatic nerve and promote healing.
In this article, we will discuss various exercises shown to be effective for sciatica relief from lumbar disc herniation. We will provide detailed instructions for each exercise along with supporting research.
McKenzie Method Exercises
The McKenzie Method focuses on a process called centralization of pain - moving symptoms from the leg or foot inward toward the lower back. One study found McKenzie exercises helped centralize pain in 62% of patients with lumbar disc herniation.^1^
Some key McKenzie exercises include:
Extension Exercises Lie on your stomach and push your upper body upwards, supporting yourself on straight arms. Hold for 5-10 seconds and repeat 10 times, 2-3 times per day.
Lie on your back and bring your knees to your chest. Gently rock side to side. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat.
The goal is to find the position that most reduces leg symptoms. Continue exercises in that position to fully centralize pain.
Core Strengthening Exercises
Once pain centralizes, exercises can progress to strengthening the deep core muscles. Strong abdominal and back muscles are crucial to support the spine and prevent reinjury.
Planks Get into a forearm plank position, keeping your back straight. Hold for 30-60 seconds and perform 2-3 times daily.
Bird Dogs Get on all fours. Simultaneously raise one arm forward and opposite leg backward. Hold 5 seconds and repeat 10 times on each side.
Supermans Lie facedown with arms outstretched overhead. Slowly lift chest, legs, and arms off the floor. Hold 5 seconds and repeat 10 times.
One study found a core stabilization program significantly reduced disc herniation and improved function in patients.^2^ Be sure to start slowly and discontinue any exercise that aggravates symptoms.