• Dr. Brian Abelson DC


Updated: Nov 2


It is essential to prescribe the correct exercises for a patient suffering from Sciatica. By considering the mechanism of how the injury occurred, we can obtain considerable insight into the type of exercises that should be performed, and which exercises to avoid. Professor Stuart McGill at Waterloo University has produced over 240 peer-reviewed scientific journal papers on back pain. He often talks about which exercises to avoid and which to do. Stretches such as pulling one or both legs into your chest, and bending over to touch your toes should in many cases be avoided, especially if you a suffer from a disc issue (forward flexion intolerant). (3,4)

The same goes for certain so called strengthening exercise such as the "superman". Doing this exercise results in placing about 600 kilos of compressive force on a hyper-extended spine. Doing a superman exercise with an injured back could be a recipe for disaster. (3,4)

Exercise Goals

Initially, for a Sciatica patient, the objective of exercise is to increase neuromuscular control and muscular endurance. This means do NOT push through the pain. Exercising in a manner that causes pain will develop abnormal neuromuscular patterns that could lead to further injury. For effective recovery, the patient needs to start by exercising within a pain-free zone.

Conventional rehabilitation strategies often fall short because they do not address the underlying neuromuscular problems, and are often designed to make you work through your pain (as in work- hardening programs). This type of program can causes you to create, or reinforce, abnormal motor responses, which means, you are continuously in pain (as you wind up your nervous system). The effectiveness of work hardening has NOT been scientifically demonstrated.

Central Sensitization

In addition, if you work through pain that is caused by tissue damage, you run the risk of developing Central Sensitization. When central sensitization occurs, the nervous system goes through a process called Wind-Up. (1,2)

  • When in Wind-Up, the nervous system remains in a constant state of high reactivity.

  • Lowering the threshold for what can cause pain, long after the initial injury may have healed.

  • The only way to break this pattern is to perform your exercises in a pain-free zone. By exercising within this pain-free zone, patients are eventually able to break their pain cycle (where previous exercise programs only made the problems worse).



The following exercises are examples of exercises we may prescribe to our patients suffering from sciatica. Which exercises we prescribe will vary greatly depending on what triggers the patient's pain and the cause of their problem. Note the front and side plank are not to be performed during the acute stage of an injury. These exercises are presented for demonstration purposes only and not as a recommendation for a specific individual.

Cat Camel Stretch - First stretch of the day: This stretch is often the first stretch you should perform in the morning (about an hour after you have gotten up). This is a great spinal mobilization exercise. If you are suffering from back pain avoid intense exercises that involve stretching or bending first thing in the morning. Give your body time to warm up. It takes about an hour for the extra fluid in your spinal discs to be squeezed out through normal motion.

Nerve Flossing - Spinal Cord and Sciatic Nerve: Releasing both the spinal cord and sciatic nerve. This nerve flossing video gives you several ways to mobilize entrapped spinal nerve roots and the sciatic nerve.

4-Point Kneeling Exercise - The Bird Dog: This is great exercise for grooving your nervous system. An important exercise if you have low back pain, and can even be performed shortly after an injury. Four-point kneeling teaches your body to transfer energy from your lower extremity through your core to the upper extremity. It also acts to increase the stability and motor control of your whole body!

The Wall Plank: This is a great exercise to re-establish motor control of your core musculature after a back injury.

The "3 Minute Plank Routine – Beginner Level"

This is a great way to start working on your core. Each set only lasts for just over a minute so repeat the sequence 3 to 5 times with one minute in between. When you first start performing planks you should do them from your knees, and your should not hold the position more than ten seconds. This is because we want to develop slow twitch muscle fibers. This is because you want to build endurance and the foundation of your base.


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Just as important as exercising within a pain free zone, is being aware of your normal daily activities. This can make the difference between a quick resolution of a problem, or the development of a chronic condition. The following recommendations apply to patients suffering from sciatica and low back pain. Following this advise will help you reduce pain, speed healing time, and reduce the chances of re-injury. (3,4)

Learn to Identify your Pain Triggers

  • Does your pain increase or decrease with flexion, extension, lateral flexion or rotation. Learning to identify what positions are triggering your pain and avoiding them can make a huge difference. Once you know these positions you can adjust your posture and position, which will speed the recovery of any injury. What is important to note is that the exact position of relief will vary from person to person.

Begin Your Day Slowly

  • When you are suffering from low back pain or sciatica it is important not to do any type of stretching for the first hour when you get out of bed. Your spinal discs are swollen, it will take time for motion and gravity to reduce this swelling. Take a hot shower, move around, and give your body time to warm up. Then perform stretches such as the cat/camel before getting into other exercises.

Variety is Your Friend

  • Static positions exacerbate low back pain and Sciatica. Don’t sit in any one position for long period of time. Stand up and stretch at least every 20-25 minutes.

  • When you take a break make sure it is the opposite of what you where just doing. If you have been sitting for a long period of time get up a move around, don’t just move to another seat in the room. If you have been standing in one position for a long period of time go for a walk.

Ergonomics Count But!

  • Good work station ergonomics are essential, but they do not compensate for staying in one position for to long.

  • Get up and move, change the height of your chair several times per day. Even switch out your office chair for a Physio Ball every few hours.

Back Pain and Activities of Daily Living: In this video we give you key information on Back Pain and your Activities of Daily Living. Performing everyday actions in the right way can make the difference between a quick resolution of your pain or the development of a chronic condition.



The good news is that most cases of Sciatica respond exceptionally well to a combination of manual therapy (manipulation and soft tissue therapy work) in combination with an appropriate exercise program!

If you are dealing with Sciatica, get the help you need and take control of your life!

Sciatica Part 1 – What Are You Dealing With

Sciatica Part 2 – Causes & Diagnosis

Sciatica Part 3 – Treatment - Logic & Recommendations

Sciatica Part 4 – Exercise & Activities of Daily Living


Make Your Appointment Today!

Make an appointment with our incredible team at Kinetic Health in NW Calgary, Alberta. Call Kinetic Health at 403-241-3772 to make an appointment today, or just click the MSR logo to right. We look forward to seeing you!



  1. Extensive reorganization of primary somatosensory cortex in chronic back pain patients., Flor, H., Braun, C., Elbert, T., & Birbaumer, N., (1997) Neuroscience Letters, 224, 5-8.

  2. Generalized deep-tissue hyperalgesia in patients with chronic low-back pain., O’Neill, S., Manniche, C., Graven-Nielsen, T., Arendt-Nielsen, L. (2007)., European Journal of Pain, 11, 415-420.

  3. Ultimate back fitness and performance, Backfitpro Inc., McGill, S.M. , Waterloo, Canada, 2004. ISBN 0-9736018-0-4. Fourth edition 2009.

  4. Low back disorders: Evidence based prevention and rehabilitation., McGill, S.M., Human Kinetics Publishers, Champaign, IL, U.S.A., 2002. ISBN 0-7360-4241-5, Second Edition, 2007.



Dr. Abelson believes in running an Evidence Based Practice (EBP). EBP's strive to adhere to the best research evidence available, while combining their clinical expertise with the specific values of each patient.

Dr. Abelson is the developer of Motion Specific Release (MSR) Treatment Systems. His clinical practice in is located in Calgary, Alberta (Kinetic Health). He has recently authored his 10th publication which will be available later this year.

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#calgary #chiropractor #NW #royaloak #brianabelson

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