Struggle with sciatica? This doctor-approved exercise relieves sciatic nerve pain

a photo of a woman wearing gym kit holding her back from sciatic nerve pain
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

About 40% of people will experience sciatic nerve pain at some point in their lives, and it is, quite literally, a pain in the butt. The sciatic nerve is the longest and thickest nerve in the body and runs from the lower back, branching down each leg. While actual damage to the sciatic nerve is rare, sciatica refers to pain from irritation, inflammation, pinching, or compression of a nerve. 

You can feel sciatic nerve pain anywhere along the path of the sciatic nerve — from your lower back, in the hips, buttocks, or down your legs. It can cause muscle weakness, numbness, or an unpleasant pins-and-needles sensation. People describe it as a shooting or stabbing pain, which may come and go. 

While sciatic nerve pain is common, you’re more at risk of it if you’re pregnant, have suffered a lower back injury, are overweight, or have a weak core. If you do think you’re suffering from sciatica, it’s a good idea to consult a doctor or physiotherapist, who can give you a proper assessment. 

Fortunately, there are stretches and exercises that can help ease sciatic nerve pain, in particular sciatic nerve glides, which were recently shared by Dr. Jacob Van Den Meerendonk on his Instagram account. 

How do you do sciatic nerve glides, and why are they good for pain relief? 

One of the most common causes of sciatic nerve pain is the nerve getting compressed, flossing the nerve can help. Nerve flossing gently mobilizes and stretches the nerve to improve your range of motion. Here’s how to do it, as explained by Dr. Van Den Meerendonk in his video: 

  • Start by lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
  • Lift the leg you feel the sciatic nerve pain into a tabletop position, so that your knee is above your hip, and grasp the leg around the thigh.
  • Flex your foot and lower your heel towards your glutes, then point your toe as you extend it up toward the ceiling. Keep alternating this movement, moving slowly and with control.

Dr. Van Den Meerendonk recommends doing around 10 to 20 reps for two to three sets, twice a day to help relieve sciatic nerve pain. “I’m not saying this is a magic bullet exercise,” he added, “but it is something that everyone should know about.” 

If you suffer from sciatica, exercising could improve your symptoms. But some exercises can worsen pain, so it’s key to know where to draw the line before you hit the ground running — here are the exercises you should avoid if you suffer from sciatic nerve pain

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Jane McGuire
Fitness editor

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past five years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.