How to find relief from Sciatica in Riders – Through Pilates



Ease out of Pain with these Pilates Moves


Read on and discover just what sciatica is and is not. Straight forward Pilates movements that can help ease your sciatic symptoms.

A word of caution first –  as with all of my Pilates or Yoga classes, never take anything into pain, discomfort yes, just not pain. Only you will know the difference between the two. Remember we need to go out of our comfort zone, but only ever so slightly, then we develop that zone further with successive classes.


What is Sciatica?

Sciatica is often a pain radiating from the lower lumbar spine into the buttocks and down the back of the leg. Sometimes reaching down into the foot. It is mostly felt as pain, but as it is nerve related other signs may be present, such as tingling etc.

It is a condition that a number of horse riders are victim to. Pilates in general can help both prevent and or treat this condition.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Sciatica


  • Pain radiating from buttock down the back of the legs
  • Tends to affect one leg
  • May be a weakness of the leg or foot
  • Sensation is not constant – can come and go
  • Aggravated by standing and or sitting
  • Sharp pain is felt rather than dull pain
  • Pain may ease with application of heat (hot bath)


What type of Sciatica have you got?

This is not a medical blog, nor an anatomy blog post, so let’s keep this basic. There are two types of Sciatica:

  • True sciatica
  • Pseudo Sciatica

True sciatica invariably involves some form of dysfunction or disorder between L4-S1 vertebra, that impinges or irritates the nerve root – that lead down and ‘turns into’ the sciatic nerve. In a nut shell the issue stems from the lower lumbar region – not necessarily where you actually feel pain i.e. the buttocks.

The treatment for true sciatica may require more specialized help than just administering heat and stretches. This is due to the possibility of herniated disc, or facet joint dysfunction being the ‘offender’.


Pseudo Sciatica however often is tight, overly taught muscles in the buttock region impinging on the actual sciatic nerve. This then affects all the parts that the sciatic nerve innervates further down the posterior aspect of the leg.

There is one particular problematic muscle in relation to pseudo Sciatica (for brevity just – sciatica) the Piriformis. Click the link for Pauls video on the piriformis.

Now we are all unique, and as the video explains some people have the piriformis pass through the sciatic nerve, in some it passes over and in others the sciatic nerve passes underneath this muscle. On most people that horse ride this muscle tends to be problematic (not just this muscle but the other several short external rotators of the hip joint).

If you are unfortunate then your piriformis may pass through this muscle. In which case you are far more prone to sciatic symptoms if this muscle then decides to go into spasm or just tightens with use – which is sort of what muscles do anyhow when we exercise or use them.

The issues if we spend too much time seated or indeed in any position for too long is the muscle becomes inflexible and incapable of performing its function as well as it should. This causes somewhat of a cascading affect as other muscles have then got to, not just perform their own job, but also take over the role / function of the dysfunctional muscle. Example: have you ever worked as a team and some team players are downright lazy, being a team player you take up their slack as well as doing your own job. You cant carry on like that indefinitely as something gives, or snaps. The same is true of our bodies – only so much stress before something gives!

The ‘bouncing’ movement created by riding can aggravate the sciatic nerve and compound, nerve root compression, in the lumbar spine. Stretching and lengthening of the muscles of this region can help prevent and is also a treatment for sciatica

Pilates Riding exercises


Spine Curls 

This movement works the majority of the posterior chain:- the calves, hamstrings and the buttocks, the erector spinae and multifidus. The abdominals get a good workout, in particular the lower abdominals. This lower abdominals and the associated movement they bring about is very important for horse riding.

The spine curls, as the name suggests also works on spinal articulation. This results in increased mobility, flexibility and strengthening of the deep postural muscles.

Take a look at our YouTube video on Pilates Spine Curls

This is also a fabulous movement for lengthening the hip flexors, thus aiding in reducing their dominance. If one focuses on lengthening through the thighs and sending the knees away from the body, it acts as a decompressor of the hips and spine.


Child Pose (Rest Pose)

There are numerous variations of this basic pose. The version that I prefer is with the arms lengthened out in front of the body. I mainly use this position either to release the lower back or after having worked/exercised the lower back.


It lengthens and stretches the lower back, top of the glutes, opens up the hips, and with the arms outstretched puts the fascia on a stretch – which is great for increasing overall mobility and fluidity of the body.


Piriformis Stretch

Take a look at this short video re Piriformis stretch – How to treat Sciatica relief Pilates for Riders.


This stretch, by lengthening the piriformis  and associated muscles, takes pressure off of the sciatic nerve.

This movement can easily be replicated lying on your back with hips and knees bent; placing one ankle on the knee/thigh and bringing that knee/thigh up towards the chest.


These are just a few that can directly aid in preventing and or treating sciatic symptoms. There are a host of other movements that can also be of benefit. Pilates is great at preventing issues arising in the first place.


Sports & Deep Tissue Massage

Having a Sports & Deep Tissue Massage may also benefit this condition!

For more Pilates movements check out my YouTube channel.

Happy Riding

Pilates & Yoga Teacher TrainingElite Pilates & Yoga Services Newton Abbot Devon – YMCA Level 3 Diploma in Teaching Pilates (Practitioner) Course YMCA Level 3 Diploma in Teaching Yoga (Practitioner) CourseTanja x

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Newton Abbot
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