If you suffer from the radiating pain of sciatica, you’re likely searching for convenient ways to find relief. Walking is an accessible exercise for most people. But is it actually beneficial when you’re experiencing sciatic pain? Or could pounding the pavement make radiating leg and back pain worse?
Read on for an evidence-based look at how walking affects sciatica.
Can Walk Help Relieve Sciatic Nerve Pain?
Sciatica refers to pain stemming from irritation or compression of the sciatic nerve. This major nerve runs from the lower back down through the buttocks and into the legs. In addition to pain, sciatica can cause numbness, tingling, and weakness in the lower body.
Common causes of sciatica include:
➔ Herniated spinal discs putting pressure on the nerve roots
➔ Spinal stenosis or narrowing of the spinal canal
➔ Muscle imbalances pulling on the pelvis and spine
➔ Piriformis syndrome involving compression of the sciatic nerve
Sciatica affects up to 40% of adults at some point. Let’s analyze whether walking helps or worsens this common, often debilitating nerve pain.
Can Walking Improve Sciatica?
Research suggests regular walking provides several benefits for managing sciatica:
- Walking helps stretch and strengthen the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back muscles that support the spine and pelvis. This may relieve pinched nerve pressure.
- Gentle aerobic exercise boosts circulation, delivering more nutrients to aid nerve healing.
- Light activity facilitates recovery by stimulating lubricating synovial fluid in the spine to nourish discs and joints.
- Walking may help realign the pelvis and take pressure off the sciatic nerve roots.
- Moderate exercise releases pain-relieving endorphins that help temporarily mask sciatic discomfort.
- Building core and leg endurance through walking can help stabilize the spine and improve posture.
However, walking must be performed carefully to avoid worsening pain. Those new to exercise should consult their doctor before starting a walking regimen to treat sciatica.
Can Walking Exacerbate Sciatica?
For some sciatica patients, walking may aggravate rather than relieve pain if not done judiciously:
Pacing yourself and following sciatica-specific walking guidelines helps minimize the risks of worsening pain. Maintaining good form is critical.
Tips For Walking With Sciatica
If you want to attempt walking to alleviate your sciatica, consider these tips:
– Start with just 5-10 minutes of walking at a slow pace on flat, even surfaces.
– Increase time and intensity gradually by no more than 10% per week.
– Consult a physical therapist to identify and correct any gait abnormalities.
– Use supportive shoes with cushioning and avoid hard soles or heels.
– Focus on good upright posture keeping your core engaged.
– Stretch your hamstrings, hips, and lower back lightly before and after.
– Take a break or stop if pain worsens, and resume lighter activity.
– Carry any prescribed medications in case of pain spikes during longer walks.
– Use ice after exercising to control inflammation.
– Consider using trekking poles to reduce low back strain.
When To Avoid Exercise With Sciatica?
Refrain from exercise like walking with sciatica flares if you experience:
➜ Numbness, weakness, or tingling in the leg, foot drop, or difficulty moving the leg
➜ Loss of bowel or bladder control, indicating cauda equina syndrome
➜ Unexplained weight loss
➜ Fever, which could signal an infection
➜ Severe or progressive neurological deficits
➜ Causing pain that continues for hours after finishing walking
Certain red flag symptoms warrant immediate medical evaluation before continuing activity like walking to prevent permanent nerve damage.
Additional Sciatica Pain Management Approaches
While light walking may be beneficial, other therapies should be included in a comprehensive sciatica treatment plan:
– Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen or naproxen for pain and swelling
– Ice or heat packs applied to the lower back and legs
– Spinal manipulation from a chiropractor or physical therapist
– Massage to relax muscles irritating nerve roots
– Stretches and exercises prescribed by a physical therapist
– Steroid injections for short-term relief in some cases
– Surgery if conservative treatments fail and symptoms are severe
Your doctor can help decide on the optimal medical, interventional, and lifestyle approaches beyond walking to manage your sciatica.
In conclusion, a regular walking routine performed carefully within your limits can often provide natural pain relief and support recovery from an acute sciatic flare. But activities like walking must be progressed very gradually.
Stop immediately if exercise increases leg numbness or weakness. Check with your physician before starting or progressing a walking program for sciatica. Combine walking with other treatments like medication, physical therapy, stretching, and proper rest for the best outcome. With a thoughtful exercise approach, moving more can help temper sciatic discomfort.
Frequently Asked Questions
Light, gradual walking can often provide benefits like pain relief for sciatica. But walking through more severe pain may aggravate the irritated nerve. Take care to avoid overdoing distance or intensity too quickly when starting a walking routine.
Laying down helps take pressure off the sciatic nerve initially. But gentle walking helps build strength and stamina for long-term recovery. Alternate short rest periods with gradual walking sessions as able based on your pain tolerance.
Walking off sciatica requires patience. Start very gradually on level surfaces for just 5-10 minutes at a time without aggravating symptoms. Slowly increase duration up to 30-45 minutes every other day as tolerated. Good form, supportive footwear, stretching, and stability exercises boost progress.
High-impact exercises like running and jumping put a lot of force through the spine and may worsen sciatica. Extended sitting and improper strength training can also incre
Ice helps reduce acute sciatic inflammation and pain, while heat relaxes muscles that may be irritating the nerve. Alternate 20 minutes of ice packs with 20 minutes of heating pads for relief as needed. Check with your doctor.