If you’ve ever had numbness, pain and weakness starting in your lower back and traveling down the sciatic nerve in your leg, you have probably experienced sciatica – pain usually caused by a compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve.
Common causes of sciatica include spinal stenosis – a narrowing of the spinal column – spinal disc herniation, and degenerative disc disease, but it can also be caused by nerve entrapment, which happens when a muscle in your buttocks presses against the sciatic nerve(1).
Approximately 5% of the adult population of the United States suffers from sciatica(2). Fortunately for these individuals, there are targeted yoga exercises designed to reduce sciatic pain and provide sciatic nerve pain relief.
Do You Have Sciatica?
If you have any of the following symptoms, you may be experiencing sciatica:
- Pain or discomfort in the lower back, buttocks, calf, or back of the thigh – this is the sciatic nerve pathway.
- Numbness or loss of feeling in one leg.
- Tingling or “pins and needles” sensations in your legs.
- Weakness in your knees, making it difficult to rise from a sitting position.
- Impaired reflexes in your knee and Achilles tendon.
- Inability to fully flex your ankles.
If you’re experiencing these symptoms, talk to a doctor about possible treatments for sciatica.
Yoga For Sciatica
Before you start practicing yoga for sciatica, consult with your doctor – especially if you are experiencing severe symptoms. While these exercises are designed to help ease sciatic pain, there are cases of individuals with sciatica going into yoga practices unprepared and making their pain worse(3).
Always warm up before going into particularly challenging stretches, and don’t push yourself past what your body can handle.
If your doctor determines that muscle spasms or tightness is the source of your sciatic pain, then these stretches may bring significant relief by helping to relax and loosen up the muscles.
Of course, the best thing about yoga is that it’s free, and relatively easy to perform in the comfort of your own home.
There’s no shortage of instructional videos to help guide you through simple yoga stretches for sciatic pain relief. In one, yoga instructor Jen Hilman walks viewers through a 14 minute yoga session – just enough time to do a few easy beginners poses(4).
According to Yoga International,
“A simple half spinal twist… gives the piriformis a mild stretch that encourages it to release and lengthen, and the intensity can be progressively increased as you approach the full pose.” They recommend caution, however: “Stretching the muscle too aggressively can provoke sciatic pain, so it’s important to proceed carefully, using the following variations and adjusting the pose so that you feel minimal discomfort”(5).
From there, they recommend a number of seated and standing poses with the ultimate goal of gently stretching your hips and leg muscles.
Another resource, the Yoga Journal, has a whole list of poses grouped by their usefulness in treating sciatic pain(6).
Finally, there’s this list of poses from CNN, which include the pigeon pushup – piriformis-stretching pose for the front leg – and the modified pyramid stretch – a combination of hamstring stretching and pelvis resetting(7).
Whichever technique you choose, it’s important to build up your resistance slowly as you develop flexibility and muscles in your hips and legs. But with regular practice, these yoga techniques may just help relieve some of that pesky sciatic pain.