Sciatica and Yoga: What You Need to Know

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back-pain-sciaticaSciatica is a condition that is a common cause of back pain. It occurs when the sciatic nerve gets compressed, causing pain to radiate from the low back through the hips and buttocks and down one leg. Despite the sciatic nerve running down both sides of the body, sciatica usually only affects one side at a time. Compression can be caused by a herniated disk, bone spur on the spine or spinal stenosis—a narrowing of the spine. Symptoms include pain–at times severe—inflammation and numbness in the affected leg. Fortunately, sciatica usually resolves itself on its own. That being said, there are steps you can take to manage and alleviate the pain caused by sciatica.

How Yoga Helps Sciatica

Yoga is an effective way to help manage the pain in your back caused by sciatica. As sciatica is commonly caused by herniated disks, aligning, lengthening and strengthening the muscles of the back will help to alleviate pressure in the lumbar spine. This increase in stability in the low back will help to decrease the severity of the sciatic pain you feel. The key is to move slowly in and out of each pose and be gentle with the body as you stretch and strengthen it. Added tension from muscles being overworked will only aggravate sciatica. Instead, aim for a regular practice over an extended period of time. Err on the side of caution and if anything doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.

Target Areas for Sciatic Back Pain

Stretching the hamstrings and hips is crucial when dealing with sciatica. Your hips and legs are made up of some of the strongest muscles in the body. This also means they are sometimes prone to being some of the tensest muscles in your body. By gently stretching out the hamstrings and hips, you will be alleviating pressure off the low back. A reduction in pressure means less compression of the sciatic nerve.

Yoga Poses for Sciatica

Hamstring Stretch with Strap

  1. Start lying on your back. Bend both knees and place your feet on the floor.
  2. Extend the sole of one foot up towards the ceiling. Loop the strap across the foot, just below the ball of the foot.
  3. Press the heel up as you use the strength of your arms to gently pull your leg closer to your body.
  4. As you inhale, ease off the stretch a little bit. As you exhale, bring yourself a bit deeper.
  5. Work through at least 10 long cycles of breath before switching sides.

Half Cow Face

  1. Start seated with your legs extended out in front of you. If you have tight hamstrings and your low back rounds in this position, sit on a block so you can sit with a tall spine.
  2. Keep on leg extended. Take the other leg and cross it over the other so that your knee is bent and lined up with your sternum. It’s as if you are trying to pull your leg to the other side of your body but stop when your knee gets to your midline.
  3. You should feel a gentle stretch in the outer hip and low back. If you want to deepen the stretch you can slowly fold forward with a straight spine.
  4. Use your exhales to relax deeper into this stretch.
  5. Work through at least 10 long cycles of breath before switching sides.

Pigeon

  1. Start in downward facing dog or table top.
  2. Bring one knee to the pink edge of that same wrist. The knee should be bent with the shin on an angle. Stretch the other leg straight back behind you.
  3. If this is too deep a stretch, place a block under the buttock of the leg that’s forward.
  4. Either stay upright using your arms to support you or fold forward to deepen the stretch.
  5. Use your exhales to relax deeper into this stretch.
  6. Work through at least 10 long cycles of breath before switching sides.

Seated Spinal Twist

  1. Start seated with one leg stretched out in front of you and the other leg bent. If you have tight hamstrings and your low back rounds in this position, sit on a block so you can sit with a tall spine.
  2. Step the foot of the bent leg over the extend leg. Your foot should be close to the outside of the extended leg’s thigh.
  3. Place the arm that’s on the same side as the bent leg behind you as a support.
  4. Hug the bent knee with the opposite arm and gently move into a twist.
  5. Use your inhales to sit up a bit taller and your exhales to twist deeper.
  6. Work through at least 10 long cycles of breath before switching sides.

What Yoga Poses to Avoid When Dealing with Sciatica

When working with sciatica it is important to keep the body mobile. This will decrease recovery time and help you to avoid other injuries. That being said, certain yoga poses should be avoided to prevent aggravating the sciatic nerve. Here are a few things to look out for on your yoga mat.

Deep Backbends

Backbends compress the spine and could make your sciatica worse. Avoid deep bends and, when you do back bend, focus on bending through the mid and upper back. Keep your lower back as neutral as possible.

Deep Twists

Just like deep backbends, deep twists will strain the spine and possibly exacerbate your sciatica. Go for gentle twists instead.

Anything the Doesn’t Feel Good

If it doesn’t feel good or is causing you pain, don’t do it! You know your body best and it will tell you when something isn’t working. With a bit of gentle stretching and deep breathing, you will find that a regular yoga practice helps you to manage and even alleviate your back pain caused by sciatica.

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