Having sciatic nerve pain can negatively affect so many activities and aspects of your life. Sciatica can make basic exercises or activities that involve the movement of your legs, very painful. If you’re a runner, sciatic pain in your lower back or down into your legs can be a significant hindrance. Of course, that poses the question, can you run with sciatica?
Typically you can continue to run with mild or moderate levels of sciatica. Make sure to warm-up properly, keep the pace of your running easy. Focus on running with short strides to lessen the strain on your sciatic nerve. Always stop if running irritates your sciatic pain.
Running with sciatica can be a sort of double-edged sword. There are some significant benefits to exercising and working your sciatic nerve in the form of running, but there can also be a few drawbacks.
In the following sections, I’ll take a closer look at whether you can run with sciatica, how fast you can run, and ways to lessen the pain when running with this type of nerve pain.
Can You Run with Sciatica?
If you have had severe sciatica or are recovering from this type of neural pain, running with sciatica may seem like a ridiculous idea. However, in most cases, running with sciatica can actually have many benefits.
To get a full understanding of sciatica and the effects of running with this type of nerve pain, let’s briefly define sciatica.
According to WebMD:
Sciatica is a common type of pain affecting the sciatic nerve, a large nerve extending from your lower back down the back of each leg.
When you run, your sciatic nerve is jarred around because of its location in your lower back and legs. As you can imagine, if you have sciatica, this can result in quite a bit of pain.
However, regular exercise is a common treatment for sciatica because it mobilises and strengthens the muscles around the nerve, improves neural dynamics (the ability of the sciatic nerve to move properly against other surrounding tissues), and helps you become more flexible.
All of these factors will help to ease your sciatic nerve pain.
When it comes to running with sciatica, the golden rule is to listen to your body and not to ignore pain. While the beginning of a run might feel a little uncomfortable, you should find that your sciatic pain begins to ease as you warm-up into your session. The movement should actually help to ease your pain.
That said, if the sciatic pain begins to get worse during a run, you must not ignore this cue to stop.
There are also ways to modify how you run to be more suitable for lessening sciatic nerve pain, but I’ll cover that later on in this article.
At this point, it feels important for me to reiterate that if you have or think you have some sort of sciatic nerve pain, always go and talk to a doctor, physiotherapist, or other qualified professional.
The reality of diagnosing and treating lower back pain is that there are many different potential causes for lower back pain, and referred symptoms that radiate into your legs.
While running and exercise can help sciatica in many cases, there are other similar lower back issues that may be further aggravated by running. So, just make sure to ask your doctor before running with sciatica.
To sum it all up, running with sciatica is entirely possible and often recommended, but make sure to check with your doctor.
From personal experience of my own sciatica, I can confirm that improving your running form will help you to manage your sciatica when running. Specifically if you focus on maintaining short strides with a high running cadence, you will put your sciatic nerve under less strain.
The action of striding out (combined hip flexion and knee extension as the foot moves ahead of your body before landing) places more strain on the sciatic nerve.
Therefore if you run with short, quick strides, your sciatic pain will be easier to manage.
How Often is it Safe to Run with Sciatica?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to how often you can safely run with sciatica, simply because everyone’s situation is unique.
The best advice I can give you is to ask your doctor about the severity of your condition because they will know the nuances of your case and will be able to accurately tell you how fast and hard you can run while recovering.
Ultimately, you will learn how your body (and sciatic symptoms specifically) responds to running. With practice you will come to learn whether your sciatica can handle running back-to-back days, or whether you need to give your body 24-72 hours recover between runs to allow for proper recovery.
Don’t forget, you can also do other forms of low-impact training between your runs, and lots of core strength and mobility work.
Another essential thing to consider when deciding how fast and often you can run while recovering from sciatica is your individual pain level. You should never run to the point where you are in pain more severe than a 3 on a 0-10 scale.
It is better to take it easier and potentially recover faster than for you to test the boundaries and end up making your sciatica worse in the long run.
During this period while you are suffering from sciatica, feel free to keep running, but it would serve you well to prioritise your sciatica rehab exercises and core strength work.
If you get on top of the sciatica quickly, at the cost of easing off your running training a little, you’ll be back to full training in no time.
As stated by Healthline:
An acute episode [of sciatica] may last between one and two weeks and usually resolves itself in a few weeks.
This just reinforces the fact that you should take it easy while recovering from sciatica because, in most cases, the pain only lasts a few weeks.
Will Running with Sciatica Make It Worse?
If you have sciatica, running will not usually cause your pain to become worse, although it can happen in some cases. Just make sure to take it easy, and if it begins to become worse, stop exercising immediately and talk to your doctor.
As long as you are keeping the running pace easy and not placing excess stress and strain on your system by running hard speed workouts, you should find that your sciatic pain isn’t triggered by running itself.
However, occasionally it is the post-workout muscle tightness that can affect the biomechanics of your lumbro-pelvic region and trigger sciatic symptoms in some runners, either later in the day or the following day after a run.
Taking the time to cool down properly after a run (click the link to learn how!) will help you to prevent this type of post-run tightness from becoming a problem.
In most cases, regular exercise can help to minimise sciatic nerve pain. As I just mentioned, by no means should you begin rigorously working out or sprinting when you have sciatica, but light runs, and other gentle forms of exercise are often fine and can be extremely beneficial.
How to Make Running with Sciatica Less Painful
Having sciatica is painful, whether you decide to run while you are recovering or not. In many cases, regular gentle exercise and movement can help to minimise sciatic nerve pain. However, there are still times where it might become painful to run.
In the next few sections, I’ll go over some of the best ways to help minimise sciatic nerve pain when running. If you are experiencing sciatic pain while running, I suggest you take some time to try out a few of these methods and see what works for you.
Pre-Run Mobility Exercises for Sciatica
Before your next run, try this quick sciatica rehab routine:
It will help to get your sciatic nerve moving properly alongside its surrounding tissues and help to prevent sciatic pain from becoming an issue on your run.
Sciatica can often feel like tightness in your hamstrings, but it’s usually not actually a case of you actually having tight hamstrings.
In fact, stretching your hamstrings the “traditional way” might actually be irritating your sciatic nerve further.
Try working on your hamstrings using this technique instead:
Run on Softer Ground for Sciatica Relief
Another excellent method for easing the symptoms of sciatica when you run is for you to carefully choose the terrain you run on. If you commonly run on gravel, asphalt, concrete, or other hard surfaces, it would probably be a good idea to pick a softer surface to run on, such as an athletics track, grass, or trail.
However, it is crucial to find a balance and to mix up your runs, as too much running on super soft surfaces like dry sand can cause its own set of issues!
Running Technique Tips for Sciatica
There are many, often minor and overlooked, ways that you can change your running posture and stride to help minimise the pain caused by sciatica when you run. Running is a high impact activity, there’s no getting away from that fact, but there are things you can do to help reduce the strain on, and irritation to, your sciatic nerve.
One of the most significant changes you can make merely is taking shorter and faster strides instead of bounding slow strides. Your running cadence is simply the number of strides you make in a minute. By increasing your running cadence for a given running pace, you’ll be making shorter, more frequent strides.
If you want to learn more about increasing your running cadence, here’s a great article which will guide you through the process:
- How to Increase Your Running Cadence << Read this next
Often a small 5-10% increase in your running cadence will prevent you from over striding, which is one of the aspects of running gait which places more strain on the sciatic nerve. It’s not a problem in most runners, but if you have an irritable case of sciatica, it will feel uncomfortable to stride out into an over striding position.
I do hope this quick guide gives you the confidence to gently try running with sciatica. Just remember that you must listen to your body, stop if your pain becomes worse, and seek medical advice if you’re in any way concerned.
You can learn more about improving your running form right here: