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General Medical Questions
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Question : Is it safer to ride a stationary bike than to walk if you have sciatica?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Robert H. Shmerling, M.D. is associate physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and associate professor at Harvard Medical School. He has been a practicing rheumatologist for over 20 years at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He is an active teacher in the Internal Medicine Residency Program, serving as the Robinson Firm Chief. He is also a teacher in the Rheumatology Fellowship Program.

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April 01, 2014
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Sciatica is a condition where you have pain, numbness, tingling or other symptoms due to irritation or injury of the sciatic nerve. The nerve travels from the spinal cord in the lower back, through the buttock and down the back of the leg. Symptoms include a sharp, burning pain, or tingling or numbness along the course of the nerve. In many cases, symptoms are worse at night.

Many people with sciatica avoid exercise altogether for fear of making things worse. That’s usually not the best option! I commend you on your interest in exercising while being thoughtful about which exercise you should choose. 

Sciatica pain is often worse when sitting on a firm surface, including a bicycle seat. That’s because the nerve is squeezed in the buttock. But sitting does not always make symptoms worse. For example, if sciatic nerve pain happens because of a problem higher up near the spine (as with a “slipped disc”), you may tolerate riding a bike.

So, is riding a stationary bike a poor choice if you have sciatica? My advice is to let your symptoms be your guide. If biking makes your symptoms worse, then try something else for exercise. Good choices may be walking or swimming. But if you don’t notice a difference with biking, then bike away!

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