Yoga for Sciatica: The Best Poses to Ease the Pain

Mary Pullig Schatz, MD, talks about yoga for sciatica and different ways you can ease the source of pain.

Photo: Andrew Clark; Clothing: Calia

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Before turning to yoga for sciatica, you should meet with a doctor to determine what’s causing your pain. Sciatica is defined as pain caused by irritation or pressure anywhere along the sciatic nerve. The nerve extends from the sacrum, between layers of the deep buttock muscles, and then into the deep muscles of the back of the thigh. Mary Pullig Schatz, MD, offers the following information about sciatica in her book, Back Care Basics: A Doctor’s Gentle Yoga Program for Back and Neck Pain Relief:

Common Causes of Sciatica

Characteristically, this pain starts in the buttock and extends down the rear of the thigh and lower leg to the sole of the foot, and along the outer side of the lower leg to the top of the foot. Pain may also be felt in the lower back.

A primary cause of sciatica is a herniated or bulging lower lumbar intervertebral disc that compresses one of the nerve roots before it joins the sciatic nerve. Sometimes irritation of a branch of the sciatic nerve in the leg can be so severe as to set up a reflex pain reaction involving the entire length of the nerve. For example, if the nerve is pinched or irritated near the knee, you may feel the pain in the hip and buttock.

Another cause of sciatica is piriformis syndrome. The piriformis muscle extends from the side of the sacrum to the top of the thigh bone at the hip joint, passing over the sciatic nerve en route. When a short or tight piriformis is stretched, it can compress and irritate the sciatic nerve. People who habitually stand with their toes turned out often develop piriformis syndrome, as do runners and cyclists, who overuse and understretch the piriformis muscle.

See also: How One Cyclist Managed Sciatica with Yoga

Yoga for Sciatica

In order to work therapeutically with sciatica, you must deal with its basic cause. Regularly practicing yoga for sciatica can help relieve some of your pain. Here are some suggestions from Schatz.

If the sciatica is from a bulging disc…

If the sciatica is from a bulging disc, focus on improving posture and body mechanics in daily activities. Your yoga practice should be modified so that the pain is neither created nor intensified. Some poses to try include Tadasana (Mountain Pose), Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog) and its modification, Push the Wall Pose, as well as Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II Pose). Do several rounds, holding each pose for a moment.

If a tight piriformis muscle is causing sciatica…

If a tight piriformis muscle is the problem, then it should be gently stretched. Schatz suggests Piriformis Stretch, a seated pose that resembles the leg position of Matsyendrasana (Lord of the Fishes Pose), but without the torso twist. Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle Pose) with the support of a table or countertop can also help. Do not overstretch or more spasm can result. These yoga poses can help relieve both piriformis spasm and piriformis-related sciatica. Remember to always speak with a physician before beginning any type of physical exercise.

See also: Q&A: Which Poses Are Best for Sciatica?

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