Types of Sciatica: Herniated Disc, Spinal Stenosis, Piriformis Syndrome, and Others

What is Sciatica? This is a term that is the cause of much confusion and is often grossly misunderstood. Sciatica is not just a disease or ailment or even a diagnosis by itself that would point to any particular cause of pain, rather it is a set of symptoms. Generally it is used for any pain that is caused by the irregular compression or nuisance in one or more of the nerves in the lower part of the spinal chord that make up the sciatic nerve. These can be caused by various different conditions.

The medical term for sciatic is radiculopathy, which occurs when a spinal disc in the lower back has been extended beyond what is its normal position, irritating the radicular nerve or the nerve root which is connected to the sciatic nerve that in turn has its off-shoots snaking its way down into the lower body through the back of the leg and thus pain is experienced along its path.

A physiotherapist, certified athletic trainer (ATC), chiropractor, physiatrist or a specialist who treats back and lower body problems can be consulted for sciatica pain relief and exercise should only be done under the supervision of a trained professional. It is very important to get an accurate diagnosis of the cause of the pain because the exercise program to be recommended rests on that. Though rare, sciatica can also be caused by an infection or tumor that requires serious and immediate medical attention.


  1. Sciatica from a herniated disc
  2. Sciatica from spinal stenosis
  3. Sciatica from degenerative disc disease
  4. Sciatica from isthmic spondylolisthesis
  5. Sciatic pain from piriformis syndrome
  6. Sciatic pain from sacroiliac joint dysfunction
  7. Hamstring stretching exercises for sciatica

The sciatica exercises for each of these conditions is different and must be done correctly, on a regular basis at least twice a day to obtain optimum results.

Herniated disc Sciatica

It normally causes acute leg pain as the disc protrudes in the incorrect direction or a nerve root is compressed causing pain to radiate along the sciatic nerve. The exercises prescribed for such a problem are ones that need the patient to get into a backwards bending position called extension exercises or press-ups which cause the pain to ease by moving the muscles in the lower extremities upwards and into the lower back.

Spinal Stenosis Sciatica

This is caused by nerve root irritation or impinging which results in the constriction of the nerve’s passageway. This pain shots down the leg while walking or muscle flexing. All exercises that require the patient to bend forward and flex the lower spine help to clear and expand these passages by stabilizing the lower spine thus allowing for the condition heal.

Degenerative disc disease Sciatica

When a degenerative disc intrudes on a sciatic nerve in the lower back it is the cause of sciatica. Exercises for lumbar stabilization are prescribed for this kind of sciatica and includes the McKenzie Method. The lumbar spine and pelvic regions are trained using these exercise movements.

Isthmic spondylolisthesis Sciatica

When the N5 nerve root is impinged upon it is the cause of this kind of sciatica. There are two kinds of exercises that help in this condition; flexing and stabilizing that help the lumbar spine to remain stable in a flexed position.

Piriformis syndrome

Experiencing pain along the sciatic nerve is a common symptom of piriformis syndrome. But this syndrome is not really sciatica but a muscle called the piriformis muscle which lies in close proximity to the sciatic nerve itself is irritates it to cause pain. These cause excruciating pain, tingling and numbness running from the lower back, to the rear and sometimes down the leg and into the foot. Stretching exercises for the piriformis muscle, hamstring muscles and hip extensor muscles helps decrease the painful symptoms.

Sacroiliac joint dysfunction

The inflammation of the SI joint or sacroiliac joint causes this. Therefore this is not true sciatica but the similar symptoms occur and exercise like stretching and movement exercises should be performed to help alleviate the pain.

Long term Sciatica Relief

These exercises must be performed as a part of daily living and not just treated as a means to get rid of back pain. They ensure good spinal health and help to ease the pressures that stress has on us. It is also a must to maintain good posture while performing daily activities and use ergonomically correct furniture to make sure the lower back is well supported and avoid standing or being cramped in the same position for long periods of time.

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Posted on Aug 23, 2009