After receiving a sciatica diagnosis, you’ll likely need to rest and try heat and ice applications, anti-inflammatory medications, massage therapy, and other therapeutic treatments. However, at some point, you’ll want to get some exercise in so you can strengthen the muscles that support your lower spine, as this can relieve stress on the sciatic nerve that runs from the lower back down the leg. One exercise option to consider is using an elliptical machine, which offers a few key benefits for alleviating pain caused by sciatica.
Provides Low-Impact Physical Activity
If you’re living with sciatica and are looking for a safe way to engage in some low-impact cardio exercise, an elliptical machine may be just what you need. Though using an elliptical machine offers similar benefits to riding a bike, you can control the pace much easier, and you have the option of trying additional exercises once you’ve strengthened your muscles and experienced a decrease in pain. If you’re new to elliptical exercises, here are a few tips for reducing stress on your back:
- Adjust the resistance control settings
- Set the incline/decline (ramp control) to avoid bending too far forward
- Select a comfortable tempo or cadence (steps per minute)
Prevents Contact with Hard Ground
With certain exercises, stress can radiate from the legs to the lower back, which aggravates the sciatic nerve. However, when using an elliptical machine, you avoid this type of stress because you’re using raised foot pedals that don’t require making contact with the ground. You’ll experience less stress on your joints while engaging in enough motion to keep your muscles strong.
Works Other Muscle Groups
As your lower back muscles become stronger, you can use your elliptical machine to strengthen muscles in other areas of the body. Sciatica also affects the legs and hips, especially if irritation of the piriformis muscle is causing discomfort, so you may want to focus on muscle groups in this region. You can use the ramp control to change the muscle groups you’re targeting. For example, if you want to work your glutes and quadriceps, try a higher ramp setting.
Minimizes Stress at the Source
Despite the pain being felt in the legs, hips, or feet, a herniated disc in the lower back is often the cause of sciatica. You’ll be in a flexed position when performing exercises on the elliptical machine, which tends to be comfortable for people who have lumbar joint or disc issues that are contributing to sciatic pain. Elliptical machines are adjustable, which means you shouldn’t have difficulty finding a position that provides the least resistance on your lower back.
How to Incorporate Separate Weight-Bearing Exercises
After first developing sciatic nerve pain, you shouldn’t perform weight-bearing exercises for about 4 to 8 weeks. However, you can still include some simpler exercises in your daily routine. Avoid deadlifts and squats, but make sure to do aerobic activities like walking and gentle core muscle strengthening exercises, which are safe ways to complement elliptical exercises.
Some modern elliptical machines come with ski poles that help with upper body conditioning and foot pedals that move in either direction, which targets additional muscle groups. You may want to take a class to learn proper techniques if you’ve never used an elliptical machine before. If you determine elliptical exercises aren’t right for you, consider yoga or water-based exercises. If your sciatica gets worse, schedule an appointment with a minimally invasive spine surgeon. Los Angeles spine experts can evaluate your pain and determine the most effective plan for treatment.
At The Spine Institute, we specialize in a wide array of spinal procedures, from spinal cord stimulation to Mobi-C disc replacement. Los Angeles patients can trust in Dr. Hyun Bae and his team of expert spine surgeons to help them find the relief they need and deserve. Call us at 310-828-7757 today to schedule a consultation.