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What Is Sciatica and What Triggers It?

The Sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the human body. It runs from the lower back down the back of your leg to the bottom of your toes. The sciatic nerve starts as a collection of nerve fibers in your lower back which then join together to form the nerve.

Sciatica is a term describing nerve pain in the leg wherein the sciatic nerve becomes compressed or irritated. It can feel like shooting pain that radiates from your lower back to your buttocks and down the back of the leg and even into the foot.

Sciatica symptoms include:

  • Pain in the lower back
  • Pain that shoots down the back of the leg
  • Weakness, numbness or pins and needles in the leg or foot.

To determine if you may have Sciatica you can first start with a seated leg raise test:

Start by sitting in a chair and straighten your painful leg out in front of you and then pull your toes toward you. Next bend your neck down and lean over. If that increases your pain from your back down to your leg then that possibly could be Sciatica.

Reproducing your symptoms while completing this test does not necessarily mean it is Sciatica, however it’s a good indicator. A Physiotherapist would be able to determine if it truly is or not.

The Ultimate Guide to Sciatica

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This appointment is your opportunity to tell us what hurts and discover whether sciatica is a good fit for you! During this session, you will talk with a therapist on a phone call (or online) and create the right care plan specifically for your pain. There is no obligation, this session is only to find out if sciatica can help you getting back to doing the things you love in life.

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The Ultimate Guide to Sciatica

What Triggers Sciatica and Causes It

Sciatica can be caused by:

  • Lumbar spinal stenosis, which is a normal part of aging
  • Disc bulge or herniation
  • Spondylolisthesis
  • Pregnancy.

Triggers that can cause sciatic nerve pain include:

  • Overweight, obesity
  • Too much sitting throughout the day
  • High heels and uncomfortable shoes
  • Poor load management at the gym

What's The Best Sciatica Treatment?

Chiropractic or Physiotherapy treatment can do wonders for sciatica pain relief. They will first identify the root cause of your pain and then create a customized treatment plan to fix it.

When you have sciatica, the sciatic nerve becomes compressed or irritated. A Chiropractor can apply manipulations to your spine to take pressure off of the sciatic nerve, thus lessening or completely getting rid of the pain.

Another technique a Chiropractor uses to help sciatica is non-surgical spinal decompression.

Non-surgical Spinal decompression has been shown to be effective at treating sciatica. How it works is it reduces pressure on the lower back and the sciatic nerve roots using a motorized traction table. The computerized table gently stretches the spine, taking the pressure off of your spinal discs. Your spinal discs are gel-like cushions between the bones in your spine. By creating what’s called negative pressure in the disc, the herniated or bulging discs can temporarily retract, taking the pressure off of your sciatic nerve.

At the same time this process transports important nutrients and oxygen into the discs to speed up healing.

How is nonsurgical spinal decompression done?

The Chiropractor will place a harness around your pelvis and another harness around your trunk. They will have you lie face down or face up on a computerized table. Then the pressure will be applied at both harnesses gently stretching and opening your spine. In fact, it’s so gentle that some even fall asleep on the table!

The treatment will last for about 30 to 45 minutes. A chiropractor would be able to tell you if spinal decompression would be the best treatment for your sciatica.

Sciatica courtesy of INNOVA Integrated Wellness Centre (Read the caption)

Others Ways to Manage The Pain

Ice and Heat

A way to provide immediate relief is by alternating between ice and heat therapy. Ice can help reduce inflammation and heat can help drive more blood flow to the problem area to help it heal faster.

You can also use heat and ice to ease muscle spasms which is common with this condition.

Here’s how to do this the right way:

First apply ice to your painful area for 15 minutes. Then apply heat for 15 minutes afterwards.  However, make sure to never sleep with ice or heat.

Posture Hygiene

You may notice if you’re working from home or if you sit a lot that your sciatic pain starts to spike. The reason this happens is sitting puts more pressure on the nerve and the structures in your back. That’s why it’s good to get up every 30 minutes to walk or stretch your back. A better option is to get a standing desk. This will allow you to alternate between sitting and standing to avoid being in positions for prolonged times. If you do need to sit a lot throughout the day make sure you sit upright, shoulders back, legs at 90 degrees on the floor, and head eye level with your monitor as your home base position. You can vary from this position, but try to get yourself into this position every 10-20 minutes.

Simple exercises that can help you with sciatica pain relief courtesy of BeActive Physiotherapy and Wellness (Read the caption)


Find out whether sciatica can help you get back to doing the things you love in life. 

3 Things To Avoid When You Have Sciatica

1.) Avoid Incorrectly Stretching Your Hamstrings

Hamstring stretches can worsen your sciatica symptoms. This is because many of these hamstring stretches are actually stretching and irritating the sciatic nerve. A common hamstring stretch is the hurdlers stretch, where you are sitting with your legs stretched and you reach towards your toes to achieve a stretch in the back of your thighs. If your ankles are pointed upwards, this actually places considerable strain on the sciatic nerve. In general, nerves do not like to be stretched and will become irritated when they are held in a lengthened position for a prolonged time.

An alternative way to stretch your hamstrings, while avoiding irritation to the sciatic nerve is completing a hamstring stretch on aa step. First place the foot on the leg you want to stretch on a step. Make sure to keep your foot flat on the step throughout the duration of the stretch, so that you don’t risk irritation to the sciatic nerve. Next push your hips backwards and hinge your torso forward, while keeping your knee relatively straight. This should provide a gentle stretching sensation in the back of thigh.

2.) Temporarily Avoid Heavy Weights

Heavy squats and deadlifts put strain on your lower back region called the lumbar spine where sciatica can stem from. Depending on your symptoms, heavy lifting may exacerbate your sciatica pain and you may need to decrease or avoid weights for a short period of time. A physiotherapist or chiropractor can help you determine how to modify your gym volume.

Instead temporarily do gentle exercises that don’t aggravate your sciatica symptoms.

3.) Sitting for More Than 20 Minutes

As mentioned before, prolonged sitting causes compression in your lower back which can make sciatica nerve pain worse. When sitting, try to get up every 20-30 minutes. Try walking around or stretching for a minute and then go back to sitting. Also it’s important to use an ergonomic office chair to keep your back in an optimal position when you sit. These chairs allow you to adjust them to fit you and support your back.

Sciatic Pain courtesy Vitality Physiotherapy and Wellness Centre (Read the caption)

Depending on your condition, yes walking can release hormones like endorphins that reduce pain.

Proper hydration can help improve muscle function and reduce inflammation in the body, which may indirectly lead to improved symptoms.

There are several types of massages that can provide relief for sciatica pain. These include deep tissue massage, trigger point therapy, and myofascial release.

Yes, strengthening your hamstrings can help relieve sciatica. Stretching and strengthening the muscles in your lower back, hips, and legs can help reduce the pressure on your sciatic nerve and improve your mobility. 

What Are Symptoms of Sciatica?

3 Good Sciatica Stretches That Help Relieve Pain

Here are 3 stretches for sciatica.

1.) Reclining Pigeon Pose

This is a traditional yoga pose that works to open your hips. 

You first lie on your back. Then bring your right leg up 90 degrees so that your thigh is perpendicular to the floor. Then take both of your hands and clasp them on the back of your thigh while locking your fingers.

Next take your left leg and place your right angle on top of your left knee. This should provide a stretching sensation in the outside of your hip.

Now hold that position for 30 seconds.

Then switch to your left leg.

2.) Forward pigeon pose

Kneel on the ground on all fours. Take your right leg and place it on the ground in front of you with the outside of your shin on the floor. Then move your other leg so that it is behind you. 

Now sit up straight, take a deep breath, and while exhaling lean your upper body forward over your front leg.

Use your arms to support your weight. 

Then repeat to your other side.

3.) Lying knee to chest

Here’s a simple stretch that can help relieve sciatica if you find that standing and walking make your symptoms worse. If you find that prolonged sitting is worse than standing/walking, then this exercise may not be appropriate for you.

Lie on the ground on your back with both legs extended and feet flexed.

Bend your right leg and place your hands around the bottom of your knee.

Then gently pull the leg to your chest until you feel a good stretch. Hold for 30 seconds. Go only as far as you can comfortably.

Return your leg to the normal position. Perform 3 reps with each leg.

These 3 sciatica exercises can help provide sciatic nerve pain relief.

There you have it, the ultimate guide to sciatica. Give these tips a try to help relieve your sciatica. Now these are just general tips. If you’d like a more customized treatment plan designed to fix the root cause of your pain, just use the search box on this page to find a top Chiropractor near you.

Top 3 exercises for Sciatica courtesy of Physiomobility (Read the caption)

Frequently Asked Questions

Usually the pain gets better in 4-6 weeks, however it can last longer.

Sometimes sciatica goes away on it’s own, but if not treated properly it may flare up sometime in the future.

If not treated it can cause persistent symptoms that will worsen and may be more challenging to fix.


Sciatica is one of several possible methods for relieving pain that do not rely on prescription medications and all the side effects and baggage they come with. Not to mention that most drugs can only mask pain, but rarely address root causes. Find a clinic if you are suffering from muscle tightness, soreness, or pain to improve your quality of life, today.

About Taylor Sipos

Taylor is a physiotherapist at The Orthopaedic Therapy Clinic located in Toronto, Ontario. He treats patients with various musculoskeletal conditions using patient education, exercise therapy, manual therapy and acupuncture. His treatment philosophy involves giving his patient’s the means to self-manage their injuries. He does this through reassurance, education and health promotion. Taylor uses the same principles as a patient educator at Pain Hero. He aims to provide you with high-quality, easy to understand information to teach you about your condition and how to improve it.