10 Exercises to Avoid If You Have Sciatica

If you suffer from sciatica, you know how debilitating the pain can be. According to the NHS, sciatica is a common condition characterized by pain affecting the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back down through the legs. Numerous exercises can trigger or worsen sciatic nerve pain and, unfortunately, some of these exercises are commonly recommended to alleviate or prevent back pain.

This article aims to help you avoid 10 common exercises that can exacerbate sciatica. It is crucial to modify your workouts to avoid aggravating the sciatic nerve, ensuring you don’t injure yourself further. Remember, prevention is essential, and knowing which exercises to avoid can go a long way in managing sciatic pain.

It’s essential to listen to your body and avoid activities that cause pain. Instead, incorporate exercises that can promote healing and reduce chronic pain. Keep reading to know which exercises to avoid to help ease sciatica pain.

Heavyweight Lifting

Risk for Sciatica

Heavyweight lifting is one of the exercises that should be avoided if you have sciatica. This is because heavyweight lifting puts a lot of pressure on the lower back and can cause a flare-up of sciatica symptoms.

The Alternative Exercises

If you want to keep working out and building muscle without aggravating your sciatica, you can try some alternative exercises. These include low impact exercises such as swimming, biking, or using an elliptical machine. You can also opt for weightlifting exercises that focus on upper body strength that do not put pressure on your lower back.

Tips for Weightlifting with Sciatica

If you must lift weights and cannot avoid it, there are some tips to keep in mind. First, make sure you use proper form and technique to minimize stress on your lower back. Second, start with lighter weights and gradually increase the weight as you build strength. Lastly, avoid exercises that require you to bend or twist your lower back, as this can cause further irritation to your sciatica.

Sit-Ups and Crunches

The Problem

While sit-ups and crunches can be effective for strengthening your abdominal muscles, they can also cause further irritation to the sciatic nerve if you already have sciatica. This is because these exercises can put pressure on the lumbar spine which can then irritate the nerve and cause pain, tingling, or numbness.

The Alternatives

If you still want to work on your abdominal muscles without aggravating your sciatica, there are plenty of alternatives to sit-ups and crunches. Here are a few options:

  • Plank: This exercise involves keeping your body in a straight line while supporting your weight on your forearms and toes. It engages your core muscles without putting pressure on your lower back.
  • Bird Dog: This exercise involves being on your hands and knees and then lifting opposite arm and leg while maintaining a stable core. This will help to strengthen your back and core muscles without putting pressure on your lower back.
  • Side Plank: This exercise involves supporting your weight on one forearm and the side of your foot. This engages your obliques while avoiding lumbar spine pressure and sciatic nerve irritation.

Remember to always listen to your body and stop exercising immediately if the pain becomes too intense.

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The Bottom Line

If you have sciatica, you should avoid sit-ups and crunches as they can worsen your symptoms. Instead, focus on alternatives that strengthen your core without putting pressure on your lower back or irritating the sciatic nerve.

Burpees and Squat Jumps


Burpees are a popular exercise that involve jumping, squatting, and push-ups. However, they can be particularly problematic for individuals who have sciatica. The act of jumping and bouncing can often lead to the compression of the sciatic nerve, which can worsen symptoms such as pain, tingling, and numbness. Additionally, the squatting position required for burpees can put extra pressure on the lower back and hips, which can further irritate the sciatic nerve.

If you are dealing with sciatica, it is recommended that you avoid burpees altogether. There are many other exercises that can provide similar benefits without exacerbating your symptoms.

Squat Jumps

Squat jumps are another exercise that can aggravate sciatica. This exercise involves squatting down and then jumping up explosively. While this can be a great way to increase your heart rate and strengthen your lower body, the impact of jumping can be detrimental for those with sciatica. The force of landing can compress the sciatic nerve and lead to increased pain, stiffness, and discomfort.

Instead of squat jumps, try opting for exercises that involve less impact, such as lunges or step-ups. These exercises can still provide a challenging workout for your lower body, but without the added pressure on your sciatic nerve.

High-Impact Aerobics

What is High-Impact Aerobics?

High-impact aerobics involves exercises that are done with both feet leaving the ground at once, such as running, jumping jacks, and plyometric exercises. These movements can put significant stress on the joints, particularly on the knees, hips, and lower back.

Why Should You Avoid High-Impact Aerobics if You Have Sciatica?

If you have sciatica, these high-impact movements can worsen your condition by aggravating the sciatic nerve. The jarring impact on the joints can increase pain and inflammation in the lower back and legs, making it difficult to perform daily activities.

Here are a few specific high-impact exercises you should avoid if you have sciatica:

  • Running
  • Jumping rope
  • High-impact dance or aerobics classes
  • Plyometric exercises, such as jump squats and box jumps
Exercise Alternative
Running Walking or biking on a stationary bike
Jumping jacks Marching in place or stepping side-to-side
High-impact dance or aerobics classes Low-impact dance or aerobics classes
Plyometric exercises Isometric exercises or resistance training

By avoiding high-impact aerobics and choosing lower-impact alternatives, you can help relieve your sciatica symptoms and protect your joints from further damage.

Leg Press Machine

What is a Leg Press Machine?

A leg press machine is a piece of equipment commonly found in gyms that is used to simulate the movement of a squat or leg press. It typically consists of a seat that is angled to allow the user to push a weight using their legs against a platform.

Why is the Leg Press Machine an Exercise to Avoid if You Have Sciatica?

The leg press machine can put a lot of pressure on the lower back, which can exacerbate sciatica symptoms. While the leg press can be a great exercise for building leg strength, it is not recommended for individuals with sciatica as it can aggravate their condition. The position of the machine puts a lot of strain on the lower back, which can cause the sciatic nerve to become more inflamed and painful.

Additionally, because the leg press machine is a weight-bearing exercise, it can put a lot of pressure on the knees and hips. This can be especially problematic for individuals with underlying conditions or injuries in those areas.

Alternative Exercises

  • Bodyweight squats
  • Lunges
  • Step-ups
  • Deadlifts
  • Single-leg Romanian deadlifts

These exercises are all great alternatives to the leg press machine for building leg strength without putting undue pressure on the lower back. They can be performed with little to no equipment and are easily modifiable to different fitness levels.

Running on Hard or Uneven Surfaces

The Impact of Running on Hard Surfaces

Running on hard surfaces, such as concrete or asphalt, can increase the impact on your joints. This is particularly problematic if you have sciatica, as the impact can cause the pain to worsen. Running on hard surfaces can also lead to shin splints or other injuries.

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The Dangers of Uneven Surfaces

Running on uneven surfaces, such as trails or grass, can also be dangerous for those with sciatica. Uneven terrain can cause the muscles in your legs to work harder to maintain balance, which can aggravate sciatica pain. Additionally, running on uneven surfaces can increase the risk of injury, as it can be difficult to see potential hazards, such as rocks or tree roots.

  • If you want to continue running, it’s important to find a surface that is both soft and even, such as a rubberized track or treadmill.
  • If you must run on concrete or asphalt, consider using cushioned insoles or shoes with added padding to help absorb some of the shock.
  • Be sure to stay alert and watch your step when running on trails or other uneven surfaces. Consider using trekking poles to help maintain your balance.

Toe Touches


Toe touches involve standing with legs straight and trying to touch the toes with the fingertips. This exercise is often performed as a warmup but can be harmful for those with sciatica.

Why to Avoid

Toe touches can cause excessive strain on the lower back and hamstrings. This can aggravate the symptoms of sciatica, including pain, tingling, and numbness in the legs and buttocks. Additionally, people with tight hamstrings may try to compensate by rounding the spine, which can further exacerbate sciatica.


  • Seated Forward Fold: Sit with legs extended in front and hinge forward from the hips while keeping the spine long. This stretches the hamstrings without putting pressure on the lower back.
  • Downward-Facing Dog: Start on all fours and lift the hips to form an inverted V-shape. This stretches the entire back and hamstrings while engaging the core and arms. Avoid if it causes pain.
  • Standing Forward Fold with Bent Knees: Stand with feet hip-width apart and bend the knees slightly. Hinge forward from the hips while keeping the spine long. This stretches the hamstrings while protecting the lower back.

Twisting Exercises

Avoid These Moves If You Have Sciatica

Avoid These Moves If You Have Sciatica

If you suffer from sciatica, it is important to avoid exercises that put strain on your lower back and twist the spine. Twisting exercises can cause further irritation to the sciatic nerve, aggravating your symptoms.

Examples of Twisting Exercises to Avoid

  • Russian twists
  • Twisting sit-ups
  • Oblique twists with weight

These exercises may seem harmless, but they can be detrimental if you have sciatica. Instead, focus on exercises that stabilize your core without twisting or bending your spine.

Alternative Exercises for Sciatica

  • Plank
  • Bridge
  • Bird dog
  • Leg raises

These exercises can help strengthen your core without aggravating your sciatica symptoms. Remember to always consult with a medical professional before starting any new exercise routine.

Exercise Description
Plank Hold a straight line from head to heels, engaging your core muscles.
Bridge Lie on your back with knees bent and feet on the ground. Lift your hips up, engaging your glutes and core.
Bird dog Start on your hands and knees. Reach one arm out in front of you and the opposite leg back. Hold, then switch sides.
Leg raises Lie on your back with legs straight. Lift one leg up to the ceiling, then slowly lower it down. Repeat on the other side.

Lunges with Heavy Weights

The Risk of Lunges with Heavy Weights

Lunges with heavy weights can be a risky exercise if you have sciatica. This exercise requires you to balance your body weight on one leg and lower your body while holding a heavy weight. It puts a lot of pressure on your lower back and can aggravate the sciatic nerve, causing pain and discomfort.

Alternative Exercises for Lunges with Heavy Weights

If you have sciatica and want to avoid lunges with heavy weights, there are alternative exercises you can do to strengthen your legs and glutes. These include:

  • Bodyweight lunges
  • Step-ups
  • Wall sits
  • Glute bridges
  • Clamshells
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These exercises are less intense and put less pressure on your lower back, making them a safer option if you have sciatica. Make sure to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new exercise routine.

Tips for Safe Lunges

If you still want to do lunges with weights, there are some tips to make them safer for sciatica. These include:

  • Using lighter weights and gradually increasing the load
  • Maintaining proper form – keeping your back straight and core engaged
  • Doing lunges on a softer surface, such as a mat or carpet, to lessen the impact on your joints
  • Listening to your body and stopping if you experience any pain or discomfort

Remember to always prioritize your health and safety when exercising with sciatica.

Stair Climbing

Why stair climbing can worsen sciatica

Stair climbing involves a repetitive motion of bending the legs and putting pressure on the lower back muscles, which can irritate the sciatic nerve. When going up the stairs, the leg muscles have to work harder to lift the body weight, and when going down, the muscles have to control the speed of descent, both can trigger pain in the lower back and legs.

Alternative exercises

  • Using a stationary bike or elliptical can provide a low-impact cardiovascular workout while keeping the spine in a neutral position.
  • Walking on flat surfaces or gentle slopes is a better option than climbing stairs as it doesn’t put too much stress on the back muscles.
  • Performing core exercises like planks or bridges can strengthen the muscles that support the spine and reduce the chance of sciatic nerve irritation.

Questions and Answers:

Can I still exercise if I have sciatica?

Yes, there are many exercises that can help alleviate sciatica symptoms. However, it is important to avoid certain exercises that can aggravate or worsen your condition.

How do I know if an exercise is safe for me if I have sciatica?

If you have sciatica, it is best to consult with your doctor or a qualified physical therapist before starting any exercise program. They can help you determine which exercises are safe and effective for your specific condition.

What are some common exercises that should be avoided if I have sciatica?

Some common exercises that should be avoided if you have sciatica include heavy weightlifting, high-impact exercises like running and jumping, and exercises that involve twisting or bending at the waist.


David Brown

As someone who has suffered from sciatica before, I found this article to be incredibly helpful. It can be frustrating to have limitations on what exercises you can do, but it’s important to avoid aggravating the condition. I appreciate the clear explanations of why certain exercises should be avoided and the alternatives provided. It’s important to prioritize your health and safety during your workouts, and this article provides valuable guidance for those with sciatica. Overall, I would highly recommend anyone with sciatica to read this article and adjust their exercise routine accordingly.

John Smith

As somebody who struggles with sciatica myself, this article really hit home for me. While I love staying active and hitting the gym, it’s important to be mindful of which exercises can actually exacerbate my symptoms. The advice to avoid exercises that put pressure on the lower back and those that involve twisting movements is spot on. I’ve made the mistake of trying to push through the pain in the past, and it only ended up making things worse. I appreciate the alternative exercises recommended that can help improve flexibility and strengthen the core without aggravating sciatica. Overall, this article is a must-read for anyone dealing with this condition and looking to continue exercising safely.

Ashley Brown

As someone who suffers from sciatica, this article has been extremely helpful in identifying exercises that could potentially worsen the pain. Before reading this, I would have never realized that certain exercises like sit-ups and hamstring stretches could aggravate sciatica. This article provides great alternatives to these exercises and puts my mind at ease knowing I can still get a good workout without risking further injury. Thank you for sharing this valuable information!