>Yoga for sciatica

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Recently I have had a few yoga students who have had sciatic pain, and I thought it would be useful to post an article on what poses to help with sciatica and which to avoid.

Remember that in yoga we always work with the body, never against it. As my teacher Ruth says, we adapt the poses to suit the body, not the body to suit the poses. So be kind to your body and work with what it needs, even if it means you have to sit out a few poses in class.

Please note that I am not medically trained and not all sciatic pan is the same, nor should it be treated the same. It is also important not confuse sciatica with sacroiliac pain, sacroiliac pain is pain that can be felt at the sacroiliac joint at the very bottom of the back (the sacrum is the large triangular bone at the base of the spine). Poses recommended for sacroiliac pain and sciatica are VERY different, so with any lower back pain it is very important to establish where the pain is located and to get your GP to confirm a diagnosis.


What is sciatica?
Sciatica is different to general back pain in that the pain radiates out from the lower back, down the buttocks into one or both of the legs. The sciatic nerve controls the movement of many muscles through the thigh and leg, when this nerve becomes inflamed or irritated commonly by compression it causes pain. Compression of the sciatic nerve is commonly it is caused by a slipped disc or the misalignment of vertebrae. When not caused by compression of vertebral discs, similar pain is experienced when soft tissue such as tension in the piriformis muscle compresses the sciatic nerve.

How to ease the pain

It’s quite important to try and find out what movements aggravate or bring on sciatic pain. Yoga is brilliant in this case, because we are tuning in to the body and feeling the effects of movement on the body. Of course doing yoga without specifically tailoring the practice to help with sciatic pain can indeed worsen it. But by doing the right yoga poses, yoga can be extremely effective in relieving sciatica. So listen to your body and avoid any poses where shooting pains develop.

Yoga poses to help

I did not get time to take photographs of the poses, so instead I have used photographs from the wonderful Yoga Journal website, with links that explain each pose in depth. Just click on the title of each pose to find out more.

Stretching

Stretching the right muscles can be extremely effective in relieving sciatic pain. Stretching tight hamstrings is of great importance, for instance doing forward bends can aggravate sciatic pain because tight hamstrings can prevent the pelvis tilting forwards, and students then tend to bend in the lower back which is not a helpful movement, particularly if the sciatic pain is caused by the compression of vertebral discs. Doing alternate leg stretches is the best way to get around this. Twists are also extremely helpful, but always be conscious of stretching the spine (creating as much space between the vertebrae as possible) during a twisting pose if it is to be effective. If you feel you are more flexible on one side than the other, than do that side for longer – remember that we are trying to bring balance to the body, not keep stretching the more flexible side whilst holding back o the stiffer side.

Supta Padangusthansana – Reclining Big Toe Pose

Use a belt as shown in the picture, remember to keep your arms straight, your lower back grounded down onto the floor (pull your navel in) and push strongly into both heels so that the legs are as straight as is possible. release more of the belt to take the leg closer to the floor, it’s not imperative to get the leg at 90 degrees, but rather to straighten the leg so that the muscles on the backs of the legs can lengthen. Try and do both sides the same.

If you have tight hamstrings, bend the knees and move the chest closer to the thighs. It’s more important to lengthen and straighten the spine in this pose than it is to get straight legs, especially in the case of sciatica.
Remember to also keep stretching the lower leg whilst bringing the bent knee up towards the chest.

Ardha Matsyendrasana – Half Lord of the Fishes Pose

Strengthening

To help heal sciatica in the long term, it is important to strengthen the muscles around the sciatic nerve, and so increase circulation to that region. Lower back strengtheners can help support the vertebrae, and along with stretching and creating more space in the region can help alleviate compression.

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana – Bridge Pose

Take care with bridge pose, because for some people with sciatica bridge pose can aggravate it, so take it slowly and always make sure to lengthen the lower back (activate the moola bandha to help).

Once again, remember to keep the lower back long, arch in the thoracic spine region.

Poses to avoid

Forward bends. Take great care in forward bends or avoid them altogether if you suffer from sciatica.


You can protect the disc by doing a forward bend with hands against the wall with the legs at a right angle to the floor and the back paralel to the floor. In a seated forward bends, keep the back upright and use blocks to sit on to help tilt the pelvis forward.


Do read this article about protecting the discs in forward bends.
I hope this will help those of you with sciatica. Do let me know if you have had success with any of these poses or have found any of them to worsen the condition. Here are some more articles for information on sciatica:
Have a happy week yogis.
Hanri x