Does Pilates for sciatica actually help relieve pain?

Does Pilates for sciatica actually help relieve pain?

The sciatic nerve is the longest single nerve in the body. It runs from the spinal cord through the buttocks where it branches off to both legs and ends below each knee. When inflammation or irritation of this nerve occurs, it causes a painful condition known as sciatica. Because the sciatic nerve controls feeling in the legs, this kind of pain can create additional, long-term problems. Sciatica pain occurs in up to 10% of the population, most often affecting patients between the ages of 25 and 45. Pilates for sciatica is one therapy many have used to find pain relief. While it won’t work for everyone, some do find benefits from this practice. Here’s how.

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What causes sciatica pain? 

Sciatica is any type of pain that stems from the irritation or inflammation of the sciatic nerve. This can be caused by repetitive movements, poor posture, or lifestyle factors.

A slipped or herniated disc can also put pressure on the sciatic nerve. Chronic lower back pain is linked to this kind of pain. A pinched nerve will also create pain radiating down the leg like sciatica.

A number of different physiological events can trigger sciatica. A fall or injury that affects the spine and presses on the nerve can be one possible cause. However, most of the time a specific injury isn’t involved. In these cases, the irritation or pinching of the nerve due to the body’s natural aging effects lead to sciatica.

Symptoms of sciatica pain

The tell-tale symptoms of sciatica include:

  • Pain in the lower back, buttocks, and down the legs
  • A shooting, burning, or throbbing pain
  • Tingling and numbness in the legs and feet

Pain will also usually increase when patients are sitting for a long period of time. However, it is important to note that increased pain over time may indicate a problem with the nerve itself.

If you are experiencing these symptoms, it may be helpful to seek the advice of a doctor or pain specialist who can suggest a variety of treatments to stop or alleviate the pain. Your individual treatment will depend on the severity of your pain and the specific cause. One noninvasive option is pilates for sciatica pain.

How does pilates for sciatica work? 

Pilates offers similar flexibility and stress-reducing benefits as yoga. However, because the exercises are done at a relatively quick pace, with a greater emphasis on strength, Pilates offers superior fat-burning and muscle-building capabilities. For tension and pain related to sciatica, these exercises can provide pain relief.

You’ll perform most Pilates exercises seated or reclining, instead of standing. These exercises frequently focus on the core, chiseling your physique as you move through the practice. As an example, a typical Pilates workout might include exercises such as laying on your back while lifting your legs straight into the air for a low-impact abdominal workout. Another exercise involves moving into tabletop position, with hands and feet on the floor, before lifting alternate legs straight for more core work.

While pilates for sciatica can help you find pain relief, always talk to your doctor before trying any new routines. Certain exercises may actually exacerbate or increase your pain. Therefore, it’s important to work closely with your doctor. Also, find a trusted Pilates teacher and talk to them about your condition. They can suggest exercise modifications during the workout as needed. This interview with Brent Anderson, phd, discusses some of the common poses to avoid if you suffer from sciatica pain.

The history of Pilates

Joe Pilates designed the Pilates system. He originally taught self-defense to detectives at England’s Scotland Yard in the years leading up to World War I. During the war, Pilates, a German, was taken as an enemy alien by the English. While held in camp, he taught other internees the exercise system.

Pilates’ students were sometimes patients lying sick in hospital beds. Pilates would rig equipment to hospital beds, allowing the patients to exercise despite their immobility. This influence can be seen in the Pilates reformer machine, which resembles a hospital bed. Resistance bands and other equipment secured to the frame increase the potential for building muscle and strength.

When Pilates moved to the U.S. in 1926, he took his exercise system with him, although it didn’t gain widespread popularity until the media began covering it in the late 1980s.

Today, 8.5 million people practice Pilates, and the industry grew more than 5% from 2008 to 2013, according to market research firm IBIS World.

What does a Pilates workout look like? 

Pilates’ premise involves building strength from the inside out, with strong abdominal and back muscles leading to overall physical strength. That’s why it can be so effective for a condition like sciatica. Pilates for sciatica helps build up the deep muscles that can help provide support to the sciatic nerve.

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Nearly all Pilates movements focus on building the core—the muscles throughout the abdomen, those supporting the spine, and others involved with supporting the center of the body. Classes are either mat-based or conducted on special pieces of equipment. They also frequently involve the use of resistance bands, marking another departure from yoga.

Although many Pilates exercises can be challenging, modifications are available to suit people at all levels of fitness. As workouts progress and strength builds, you naturally progress to stronger movements with fewer modifications. Having a strong core makes your entire body feel strong.

Pilates for sciatica workouts 

Some example postures you could use for Pilates for sciatica are included in the following video from Pilatesology.

Another example is from Marquis Pilates and Fitness.

Other common sciatica pain treatments

The goal with sciatica treatment is to decrease pain and increase mobility. There are multiple ways to achieve this objective beyond Pilates for sciatica. Talk to your pain doctor about your best options. Some are more invasive or may require treatment with drugs to reduce the inflammation and irritation of the sciatic nerve. Some patients find relief with better nutrition. Therapeutic massage can also help manage your pain.

Additional treatments include:

The right treatment for you will depend on a number of factors. Before deciding which option to pursue, talk to your doctor for an official diagnosis.


Acupuncture is a technique developed over centuries of Chinese medicine. Trained acupuncturists insert small needles in the skin at various trigger points. These trigger points access the body’s natural energy flow, also called chi. Acupuncture is also often coupled with relaxation and meditation techniques that incorporate the mind, body, and spirit. Individuals with symptoms of sciatica have experienced relief with acupuncture treatments. Acupuncture is non-invasive, with minimal risks for patients.

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Physical therapy

A trained physical therapist can help patients dealing with the effects of sciatica with exercises design to relieve the pain. A therapist will help you work through exercises that strengthen the muscles of the lower back, help you stretch the area, and alleviate some of the pressure on the sciatic nerve. Typically physical therapy has a component of at-home exercises as well to keep up the level of recovery. Your length of treatment will often depend on the cause of your sciatica pain and how well you keep up with the exercises between physical therapy visits.


Another alternative treatment for sciatica pain may be yoga. It’s similar to Pilates for sciatica, but is a deeply meditative practice. It practice involves a series of specific stretching exercises designed not only to increase your body’s flexibility but also calm your energy and promote relaxation. The physical exercise coupled with the mindfulness of yoga can help many patients better handle the effects of conditions such as sciatica. However, if yoga causes more pain than it alleviates you may want to speak with your doctor about different treatment options.

Epidural steroid injections

For more disruptive sciatica pain, some patients consider an epidural steroid injection. This treatment is designed to inject medication into the affected area of the body to reduce inflammation and help restore the body’s natural balance. However, most experts currently believe this is just a short-term fix and that patients will need to seek longer-term treatments along with comprehensive lifestyle changes to find the most relief from sciatica pain.

Chiropractic care

A chiropractor manipulates the human body to realign the musculoskeletal system. They can provide relief from a variety of conditions. Chiropractic care helps the body through its own natural healing process and does not involve any drugs. The manipulation of the spine can free its movements and relieve pressure on the sciatic nerve alleviating the painful effects of the condition.

Sciatica is often made worse by remaining stationary. Most specialists encourage you to move to alleviate the pain and strengthen the muscles around the area. In the case of a herniated or slipped disc, you may need additional specialized treatments that will address those specific conditions. These treatments help relieve pressure on the sciatic nerve to reduce pain.

Find relief

Because of the intense pain caused by sciatica, your doctor will likely create a comprehensive treatment plan that uses medical interventions alongside lifestyle changes or exercise regimens, like Pilates for sciatica. Especially at the onset of the pain, seek treatments that are less invasive. This may prove to have better long-term effects than drugs or surgical interventions.

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