Does pain from sciatica affect your daily life and make even the simplest of physical tasks difficult?
Living day in and day out in extreme pain can be debilitating and begin to take its toll on your overall physical and mental health. If the ‘one size fits all approach’ from Western physicians is not working for you, then yoga may just be the answer you are looking for.
What Is Sciatica?
Sciatica is the name given to pain or irritation occurring along the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve runs from the back of your pelvis, all the way down your legs to the feet and is the longest nerve in the body.
We have 5 sets of nerve roots in our lower back and sciatica is caused by compression of one or more of these sets of nerves. Pain from sciatica is usually felt in your lower back, buttocks or backside of either of your legs and can manifest as moderate to severe pain, numbness, or a tingling sensation in any of these areas.
Low back pain is one of the most common reasons people visit their doctor and 5% - 10% of these patients will have sciatica. (1) Currently the leading treatment for sciatica is pain killer medication and in severe cases, surgery. (2)
Luckily more and more research is being done on the positive effects yoga can have on treating and easing pain from sciatica. This will hopefully open your eyes to a safer option of treatment that will benefit your body and your mind. (3)
What Causes Sciatica?
It’s important to establish the root cause of your sciatic nerve pain so you can target your treatment more effectively.
Here are some of the most common causes of Sciatica:
Lumbar Herniated Disc
This occurs when the soft inner centre of the disc leaks out and compresses on or pinches the nerve. These discs are there to separate one vertebrae from the next. (4)
Degenerative Disc Disease
This can naturally develop with aging, but in some cases the discs can weaken so much that it causes irritation of the nerve root.
This is when one of the vertebrae slips out of position, again compressing or pinching the nerve.
The Piriformis is a muscle located deep within your hip and allows for the external rotation of the femur bone (thigh bone). If this muscle is tight it can pinch the sciatic nerve causing pain.
How Yoga Can Help
Yoga was originally intended to be a complete healing system for the mind, body and soul. Improved research is continually being published in the East and West regarding the positive effects Yoga can have on your overall health and well being. (5)
A gentle and progressive approach is the best way to introduce yoga into your treatment plan for sciatica. One of the most widely practiced styles of yoga for sciatica and chronic low back pain is Iyengar Yoga. Iyengar yoga has a strong emphasis on alignment and working deeply with each posture to gain the maximum health benefits.
One study, using Iyengar yoga with sufferers of chronic back pain and sciatica, showed clear results of improvement. (6)
Benefits Of Using Yoga For Sciatica
The yogic approach is to determine which muscles you need to strengthen and which you need to stretch. Some of the key benefits of using yoga to aid recovery of sciatic nerve pain are detailed below.
Relieves Lower Back Pain
Yoga has shown to significantly reduce chronic back pain in sufferers. A lot of asanas (yoga postures) work deeply with the spine keeping it healthy, and creating space between the vertebrae.
Abdominal muscles and muscles of the back are key components to a healthy functioning spine.
Yoga effectively targets these muscles and when they are conditioned, back pain can be significantly reduced.
A number of small studies have reported that patients were able to reduce their medication for back pain after just 3 months of regular yoga practice. (7)
The role of stress on our physical health tends to be overlooked, but we are slowly beginning to realise the crucial effects it can have on our 8)the stress response system is activated, blood vessels throughout the body contract, tension in muscles increase, and there is a decrease in oxygen to the muscles. All of these physical reactions can cause pain and irritation. (
Yoga is widely recognised for it’s calming effect on the body and mind. The combination of mindful movement, meditation and down regulating breathing exercises help in lowering blood pressure and the slowing down of the breath and mind. (9)
Next time you find yourself suffering from physical pain, check in with your stress levels and see if maybe it’s your bodies way of saying ‘slow down’.
Good posture is so important to the health of your spine and your entire body. When your posture is poor, this can put unnecessary pressure on other areas of the body.
If, for example, you are someone that hunches your shoulders, this causes your cervical spine (the vertebrae in your neck) to lose it’s natural curve, putting extra pressure on the rest of your spine.
If this posture is continued long term, you may develop painful conditions such as sciatica. (10)
The ‘S’ shape of the spine acts as a shock absorber for pressure. Practicing yoga helps to keep the spine lubricated and improves circulation that brings nutrients to the discs of the spine and removes toxins.
Flexibility plays a very important role in our physical health. If muscles are tight it can have an adverse reaction on our skeletal body and increase our chances of pain and injury. For example, tight hamstrings (muscles at the back of our thighs) can cause back pain.
Yoga is renowned for its ability to increase flexibility. By working deeply with postures that stretch our muscles in ways that we may not be used to, we increase flexibility, reach the deeper layers of our connective tissue and lubricate our joints.
Yoga Poses For Sciatica
Movement and healing go hand in hand. Your symptoms will never improve from bed rest, which used to be the recommended treatment for sciatica and back pain.
The aim of using yoga for sciatica is to prevent and reduce the painful symptoms caused by this condition. You need to stretch and strengthen key areas of the body that directly affect sciatic nerve pain like the back, piriformis and hamstrings.
Here are a few poses that really target these areas.
Doing a few rounds of this is great for warming up and stretching the spine.
- Begin on all fours with your spine in a neutral position. Place your hands shoulder width apart and knees hip width apart.
- Take a deep inhale and arch your spine, lifting your chest and gaze and rolling your shoulders back.
- As you exhale curl the spine and round your shoulders, pushing evenly through both hands.
Start by doing ten rounds of this exercise and increase to twenty as flexibility and strength increases.
Reclining Big Toe Pose
This pose targets the hamstrings, hips, thighs and lower back. Building up your strength in this pose will do wonders for sciatic nerve pain.
If taking hold of the toe is too much, you can always use a strap around your foot.
- Begin lying flat on your back with both legs extended on your mat.
- As you inhale bring your right knee into your chest and take hold of your big toe with your index and middle finger.
- Exhale and extend your leg upwards. Try and keep you left hip firmly on the ground.
- With every inhale find more length through the leg and with every exhale try and move a bit deeper into the pose so you can feel the full stretch.
- Hold here for 5 deep breaths and repeat on the other side.
This pose is a wonderful hip opener and one of strongest piriformis stretches.Pigeon pose also stretches the psoas muscle, which is the only muscle to attach the torso to the legs and gets significantly shortened by sitting for extended periods of time.
- Begin in downward facing dog pose. Exhale and bring your right knee towards your chin.
- Lower your knee towards the right side of the mat and take your foot towards the left side of the mat, keeping your knee and foot in line with each other.
- Lengthen your back leg down to the floor and square your hips to the top of your mat.
- Inhale and open the shoulders and chest, then exhale and fold over your bent leg, resting your forehead on a block with your hands or the floor. If you feel any pain in your knee, keep your body upright. You can also place a folded blanket under the hip of your bent leg.
- Hold here for five deep breaths and repeat on the other side.
Reclined Spinal Twist
The reclined spinal twist feels incredible for many great reasons. This pose gently massages your back and hips, hydrates your intervertebral discs and realigns the spine.
- Lay flat on your back, releasing your lower back into the ground.
- Bring your knees into your chest and take your arms out to a ‘T’ position.
- Drop both knees to the right side and turn your head to face the left.
- After five deep breaths take your knees over to the left side and enjoy.
Extended Child’s Pose
A foundational yoga pose that calms the mind and relieves stress. This posture really allows you to check in with yourself and feels great for your spine, hips, back and neck.
Practice At Home
When getting to a yoga studio isn’t an option, here are some gentle yoga videos focused on relieving and preventing sciatica.
Put on some comfy clothes, grab your mat and press play!
Yoga For Sciatica with Adriene
15 Minute Yoga For Sciatica and Back Pain with Lesley
Yoga for Severe Sciatica & Sciatica Recovery with Brett
The Path To Health
Yoga can do so many wonderful things for the mind, body and soul and it’s important to know that it can also be used as a therapy for illness and pain.
Movement is integral in your healing process, so keep active, take a walk every day, and begin introducing some of these targeted yoga postures into your daily routine.
Choosing yoga really can lead you on the path to overall health and wellness.