Does Walking Help Sciatica?

Reviewed on 9/22/2022
Two smiling seniors holding hands while out for a walk
Walking and other low-impact exercises can help with sciatic nerve pain relief.

Sciatica refers to a range of symptoms that occur with pain that radiates from the lower back or hip to the back of the thigh and into the leg, usually to the foot or ankle. 

Sciatica usually goes away on its own over time. Up to 90% of patients get better in several weeks with rest and nonsurgical treatments. 

Walking can help sciatica. It is often recommended to take short walks to help with sciatica symptoms. Some tips for walking to help sciatica include: 

  • Shorten the stride for proper walking posture
    • Walking with proper posture will help core, back, hip, and thigh muscles to work together to ease stress on the spine
    • Land between the midfoot and heel, and then gently roll onto the toes and push off into the next stride
    • Walk at a slower pace, which will help shorten stride
  • Strengthen core muscles of the abdomen and lower back to support the spine
    • Actively engage abdominal muscles to help protect sciatic nerve roots and reduce pressure on the spine
    • Stand upright
    • Focus on breathing 
    • Engage abdominal muscles by tucking in the stomach (don’t tuck too hard and strain yourself)
  • Take breaks and do some deep breathing to reduce stress, improve attention, and release endorphins that can help ease pain 
  • Stretch the hamstring and hip flexor muscles 

Staying active overall can help reduce inflammation. In addition to walking, low-impact aerobic activities can help sciatica, such as: 

  • Stationary bike
  • Elliptical trainer
  • Stair-stepper machine
  • Water aerobics and water therapy

Other nonsurgical treatment to relieve sciatica includes: 

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) 
  • Muscle relaxants 
  • Gentle heat or cold applied to painful muscles
  • Physical therapy
  • Steroid injections into the spinal area 

Surgery may be needed in some cases if sciatic nerve pain is disabling for three months or more despite nonsurgical treatment. 

What Are Symptoms of Sciatica?

Symptoms of sciatica usually come from the sciatic nerve in the lower back, and run from the hip, down the back or side of the leg, to the foot or ankle, and include: 

  • Pain that feels like a bad leg cramp
    • Sharp, “knife-like,” or electrical-feeling pain
    • Pain often happens when moving, sneezing, or coughing
  • “Pins and needles” sensation
  • Tingling sensation
  • Weakness
  • Numbness
  • Burning sensation

What Causes Sciatica?

Sciatic nerve pain is usually caused by damage related to a spinal nerve root (radiculopathy) at the L4, L5, or S1 level from a disc disorder, along with any sudden pressure on the disks that cushion the bones (vertebrae) of the lower spine. 

Common causes of sciatica include:

Triggers for sciatic nerve pain include: 

  • Sitting too much
  • Being overweight/obese
  • Wearing overly tight, form-fitting pants, shorts, or skirts
  • Wearing high heels or uncomfortable/uncushioned shoes
  • Carrying bulky items in a back pocket, such as wallets and phones

Risk factors for developing sciatica include:

  • Age: most often occurs in people between the ages of 30 to 50 years
  • Frequent heavy lifting 
  • Nerve damage from diabetes 


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Reviewed on 9/22/2022

Image source: iStock Images