What is Sciatica, Anyway?
Tingling, burning, numbness, inflammation, pain–all of these are words that can describe sciatica.
Sciatica, or sciatica nerve pain, occurs when part of the sciatic nerve is compressed, pinched, or irritated.
The sciatic nerve runs from the lower back, through the buttocks, and down the back of the leg. It’s the longest nerve in the body.
Sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve is pinched. It feels like pain, burning, tingling, or numbness down the back of your leg.
The sensation varies from person to person and can range from a dull ache to sharp, excruciating pain. It might feel like an electric shock, and it can even cause weakness in your leg.
You might experience a constant ache or searing pain that comes and goes.
How Sciatica Can Affect You
Sciatica is a term commonly used to describe pain that originates in the lower back and radiates down the leg.
This pain is caused by pinching, irritation, inflammation, or compression of a nerve in the lower back.
Sciatica is typically caused by an injury like a herniated disc, bone spur, spinal stenosis, or any injury that causes pressure on the nerve.
In some cases, the pain might be worse after sitting or standing for long periods of time. While sciatica usually affects one leg, depending on where the nerve is pinched, it could affect both legs.
Sciatica Risk Factors
Many different factors could cause or worsen sciatica. Here are a few:
- Injury: A previous or new injury could potentially cause sciatica pain.
- Age: Normal wear and tear on the body over time can also lead to sciatica.
- Weight gain: Carrying additional weight could cause your back muscles to have to work harder, potentially leading to injury.
- Weak core muscles: If your core muscles are weak, your lower back muscles have to work harder to support you. While your upper back and chest have your ribcage for support, the lower back is supported only by muscles.
- Pregnancy: Some people experience sciatica pain during pregnancy due to an increase of the hormone relaxin which loosens the ligaments and can make the spine more susceptible to injury, or the position of the baby.
- Other risk factors include diabetes, arthritis, an inactive lifestyle, working a job that involves lifting heavy things, or smoking.
How Can Yoga Help?
Most sciatica pain can go away on its own over time and through self-care practices, like exercise and yoga.
Yoga can help those with sciatica pain through stretching and strengthening. Because yoga is a low-impact activity, some doctors even recommend it to help ease sciatica pain.
How Yoga Can Be Beneficial For Those With low-impact Sciatica
- It stretches the hips and spine, alleviating the pressure on the nerve.
- It helps to strengthen the core and back muscles.
- Yoga helps with posture and maintaining good posture throughout the day can also lessen the pressure on the nerve.
A Sequence for Sciatica
This sequence is designed to help you find relief from sciatica by stretching your hips and spine, and strengthening your back and core muscles. Try out this sequence and get some relief!
If you experience sciatica pain, it's always recommended to check with your doctor before starting any new exercise programs.
A few things to keep in mind before getting started:
- Always work within a pain-free range of motion. If your pain worsens, back out of the pose or skip it.
- Avoid straight leg stretches. Stretching your hamstrings with your legs straight might irritate the nerve further.
- Go slow and move with your breath. Avoid pushing too far or moving too quickly. Use your breath to guide your movements.
- Keep your backbends gentle. Do your best to lengthen your spine in backbends and spread the backbend evenly across your spine, rather than crunching into your lower back.
- Keep your back straight in forward folds. People with sciatica pain can benefit from gentle hamstring stretches, but avoid rounding your back in folds like Seated Forward Fold or Paschimottanasana, and Standing Forward Fold or Uttanasana. You may be better off lying down and using a yoga strap to stretch your hamstrings one leg at a time, like in Reclining Hand to Big Toe Pose or Supta Padangusthasana.
- When in doubt, be gentle with yourself.
Yoga for Sciatica Flow:
- Reclined Bound Angle Pose, or Supta Baddha Konasana
- Warm up your hips by holding this pose for five to ten breaths. Support your knees with blocks or folded blankets to avoid stress in your hips.
- Supine Twist or Supta Matseyendrasana
- Twist both knees to one side. Stack your ankles, knees, and hips so that the twist comes from your upper trunk rather than from your hips. Hold for five to ten breaths, then repeat on the other side.
- Reclined Figure Four Pose or Supta Kapotasana
- This pose stretches the piriformis, which is a hip muscles that the sciatic nerve runs through. Move gently into this pose and gradually increase the stretch as desired. Hold for five to ten breaths, then repeat on the other side.
- Bridge Pose or Setu Bandha Sarvangasana
- Bridge Pose strengthens the glutes and legs while also providing a gentle backbend. Hold for five deep breaths, and repeat a few times if you’d like.
- Cobra Pose or Bhujangasana
- Focus on creating length and space in your spine as you move into this backbend. You can either hold this pose for three to five deep breaths, or lift as you inhale and lower as you exhale five times.
- Downward-Facing Dog or Adho Mukha Svanasana
- This pose stretches the spine and backs of the legs. Hold for five deep breaths.
- Warrior II Pose or Virabhadrasana II
- Warrior II strengthens the outer hip muscles, legs, core, and glutes. Hold for five to ten breaths, then repeat on the other side.
- Locust Pose or Salabhasana
- Locust strengthens your back and glute muscles. Keep this backbend mild and focus on lengthening your spine. Hold for five deep breaths.
- 90-90 Stretch
- This pose is great for increasing overall hip mobility. This is a great alternative for Pigeon Pose, which can aggravate the sciatic nerve if you have an injury. It can be quite intense so go slowly and add props for support as desired.
- Half Lord of the Fishes or Ardha Matseyendrasana
- This pose is great for sciatica because it stretches the outer hips and twists the spine. Focus on lengthening your spine and hugging your core muscles to your spine as you twist. Use your breath and your core to guide the twist, rather than using your arms to push yourself into a deeper twist.
- Legs up the Wall or Viparita Karani
- If you feel an intense hamstring stretch in this pose, opt for a bent knee variation where you rest your calves on the seat of a chair or couch. Add a pillow or stack of blankets under your calves if the couch or chair isn’t high enough to fully support your calves.