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10 Exercises to Avoid With Sciatica (Bulging or Herniated Disc) or Back Pain.

This article is a transcribed edited summary of a video Bob and Brad recorded in August of 2017. For the original video go to

Bob: All right, today we're going to talk about the top 10 exercises to avoid if you have sciatica. Some of these are probably even good for people who just have regular old back pain.

Brad: Right, a lot of times back pain can lead to sciatica. It's kind of a precursor oftentimes, so these are good things to think about with both conditions.

Bob: And generally, the rule of thumb is that if you're doing anything and while you're doing it, it starts making the pain worse, you need to avoid it.

Brad: If that's an activity or a posture, by posture I mean if you're sitting in a car and that consistently creates back pain or pain down the leg, you need to change how you sit in that car.

Bob: Yeah, you must make an adjustment. This is kind of a battle of finding the things that lessen pain and finding the things that worsen the pain, and you must do more of one and less of the other.

Brad: Right, more of the things that lessen it obviously, and less of the things that irritate it.

Bob: I know that seems very simple but it's very true and it's very effective.

Brad: Some people don't think about these things, we're going to go through these 10 activities that oftentimes irritate sciatica. So, this is just hitting 10 of the big things that we think a lot of people ignore because they're not aware of it.

Bob: All right number one, what's number one, Brad?

Brad: Okay, big thing, a lot of people when they have back pain think they need to stretch their muscles out. So, they'll start bending forward. And more times than not, I'd say the majority of sciatica is from a disc problem, a bulging disc. This stretch, most of the time is going to make the disc worse. It stretches the muscles too but it's not good for that bulging disc.

Bob: I just saw a golfer, an older guy that was golfing with me do this. He took his club and was stretching but bending over. I was like, don't do that. This is terrible for your back.

Brad: Right, you should be going in the other direction. So don't be stretching to the toes. Avoid that one. The next one, this is a really popular one. People like to do the hurdler stretch. And not only does this bend your back forward, but it twists your pelvis, and it locks your pelvis in place. It puts more stress and then you rotate a little bit. You're getting rotation, and excessive flexion with a locked-in pelvis. It's true, you're stretching your hamstrings, but you're damaging and making your back worse. You're putting a lot of stress on it.

Bob: So, you're saying I should never do this one? Probably not, right?

Brad: Yeah, there are a lot better ways to stretch your hamstrings than this. If you're a hurdler, maybe this is a good thing to do. But if you're not there are a lot better ways to do that. I'm not a hurdler's coach. I don't know about that.

Bob: One of the better ways to stretch your hamstring when you're got back problems is just to lay flat on your back and bring your leg up with the stretch strap, or a belt, or a sheet. And then you can also push down and relax, push down, and relax.

Brad: Yeah, contract, relax. These little stretch straps really work well for stretching the hamstring. And the back is in a neutral position down here, staying safe.

Bob: Yeah, a great way to stretch without putting any stress on your back at all.

Brad: Next, I want to get into some of the weightlifters. We have several comments from people that are weightlifters asking, “Geez, can I get back to my weightlifting with sciatica?” This lift here, we call it good mornings. When you're doing this one, I would take that lift and throw it in the garbage.

Bob: Throw it in the trash and never do it again.

Brad: Right, that one is hard on the disc, on the low back. It's true, it works the muscles. It works on the hamstrings, but it's really putting stress on the low back. So, good mornings, just forget about those.

Bob: Say good night to the good mornings.

Brad: Yeah, exactly. All right, Squats. Now I would even put this one on hold until your back is completely fine, and you have no more sciatica. Because even if you do perfect posture with this, you're putting a fair amount of stress.

Bob: It's too much compression force. Now we're not saying that you should never do squats. The squats are fine for your back. In fact, I would recommend them to strengthen your back. But not if you're having back pain.

Brad: Right. Anything with back pain, or especially pain down the leg, that's a big red flag. Put a hold on the squats and get back to them when you're feeling pain-free.

Bob: If you're coming back to squats after having back pain, I would start off with doing real shallow ones with really good form. Because the further you go down, the more your back rounds out, the more stress.

Brad: Yep. You get that butt wink. And there's controversy on that but we are firm believers that you don't want to get in that butt wink. It really stresses the disc. You know, if you're a hardcore lifter, they want to lift. I can understand.

Bob: I understand too.

Brad: Okay. The next one is the deadlift. This one is hard on your back. It's a great exercise for the overall body, hips, and legs.

Bob: Again, it's going to strengthen your back, but not when you're having sciatica or back pain. It's too much compressive force.

Brad: I've seen a lot of people do deadlifts and their backs are rounded, that probably created the back pain. So, if you're going to do deadlifts, really work on your form but put a big hold on it.

Brad: We always talk about the three points of contact. If he's doing it correctly, he should have 3 points of contact. And if he's doing it incorrectly, one point of contact.

Bob: That puts a lot of stress on that one point. I was at a high school tournament, a lifting tournament and I felt so bad for all those kids. It's like, they're going to have back problems if they continue to max out with poor form.

Bob: Brad and I can watch people do things and we know eventually, they're going to have this problem or that problem.

Brad: Right. If they continue with that kind of body mechanics.

Bob: That’s just the way mechanics works, the body's going to give if you're doing things incorrectly.

Brad: Okay. Number six, this is something that is near and dear to me, cycling. If you're a cyclist and you've got back pain, particularly if you have a road bike where you really get hunched over, it's going to take a toll. And I know, including myself, I must work on my posture. The taller you are up on your bike, the less stress on your low back. You're going to be slower too, there is a lot more resistance. So, if you're concerned about that, change your posture, or just take a break from the bike for a while.

Bob: So, I have the upright handlebars, and I would even if I'm feeling a little bit of back pain, I don't really go biking. It’s that upward movement of your knees, it puts you into a little bit of flexion.

Brad: Right, yeah. Especially if your seat's too low.

Bob: Yeah. And my seat's not too low.

Brad: So, cycling is a red flag on that too. Walking, if walking makes your back feel good, and your leg feel good, that's a good thing to walk.

Bob: It's wonderful to do.

Brad: But walking uphill, you must lean forward just to keep your balance. That's going to put stress on your low back. So, if you're going to walk, do not walk up hills, if you can avoid it, walk on the flats.

Bob: The other thing I would say about walking with sciatica, sometimes it helps to take shorter strides. It can pull on that sciatic nerve if you're taking longer strides. So, if you're getting back to walking because walking is good for your back, especially if you can get like 20 minutes in, try to just take shorter strides and see if you can do that pain-free.

Brad: Right. Okay, the next one is burpees. This is one of those exercises that is good overall, you’re getting your heart rate up, working your legs, and your hips, but boy when you're going down to the ground, you're putting your back at maximum flexion. Everything is curled up in that fetal position, which really stresses that low back. You're putting max flexion on there.

Bob: People maybe don't know what a burpee is. Brad is going to show you.

Brad: You might go to one of those classes and everyone thinks that if an exercise is really, really hard, it's really, really good for you. Sometimes that's true. In this case, if you have some back problems, it could cause more pain.

Bob: We have to come up with a modification to that. But Brad is absolutely right. There are two spots in there where you're really hurting your back. One is on the way down and then when you come back up. It's throwing you right into flexion. And violently.

Brad: It's a pretty dynamic exercise. So again, great exercise for aerobics and strengthening that area. But it stresses the back pretty badly.

Bob: Next one is sit-ups.

Brad: We have a lot of videos on how to do bad sit-ups, and how to do good sit-ups for back pain. But if you've got sciatica, you might want to leave the sit-ups alone for a while. If you're doing those old traditional sit-ups we did in school, that's terrible. Forget those.

Brad: Or if you're raising your legs up and reaching for your toes, great for the abdomen, but not good for the low back at all. So really avoid sit-ups. There are sit-ups you can do with the ball that can decrease the stress on your back by quite a bit.

Bob: We have a video on that, “BEST Abdominal Core Exercises to Do with Low Back Pain.”

Brad: Okay, good.

Bob: I just saw a whole article on it. It was really in-depth.

Brad: And the last one, this is one a lot of people don't think about after you run, or you walk, or you do something that exerts you a little bit. You bend to get your breath or to get caught up.

Bob: McKenzie talks about this. He said a lot of times people get pain after athletic activities. It's because they're maximally warmed up. They sit down and they slouch over because they're really warmed up and really stretched out.

Brad: And they're tired and relaxed.

Bob: And they're tired and it's really bad on your back. So, when you get done with your workouts, you need to stay in good posture yet, sorry. There's no time you can take off from having good posture.

Brad: This is one, I need to think about when I do my pull-ups. A lot of times I'm tired and I want to lean forward. And I think, oh, then I'll correct myself. I'm breaking my habit of leaning forward. Same thing we're talking about here. So, there you go. Those are 10 things, but remember there are other ones, and if it makes the leg pain worse, or the back pain worse while you're doing it or afterward, that's an activity, or posture to stay away from. Good luck with your sciatic. And remember Bob, we can fix this about anything except…

Bob: A broken heart.

Brad: Exactly.

Bob: But we're working on it.

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