Those who suffer from sciatica know it's literally a pain in the butt -- and sometimes in the leg and foot. The sciatic nerve runs along the back of your thigh and calf, and when it's irritated and inflamed, the pain can be excruciating. Yoga can help, but which asanas are best depends on the cause of your sciatica.
Made up of nerve fibers from your lower back and sacrum, the sciatic nerve travels from your pelvis down the back of your leg. Branches of the nerve run all the way to your foot. Sciatica is caused by pinching and inflammation of the sciatic nerve, which can lead to symptoms anywhere along its course, from tush to toes. Symptoms include burning pain, weakness, numbness, tingling and sensations of electric shock. Sciatic pain can be triggered by numerous causes, most commonly by herniated disks and piriformis syndrome.
Asanas for a Herniated Disk
If the disks between the vertebrae of your lower back become damaged, they can press on one of the nerve roots that make up the sciatic nerve -- the most common cause of sciatic pain. Bending forward and rounding your lower back tends to exacerbate a herniated disk. Dr. Loren Fishman, in his book "Relief Is in the Stretch," recommends several back-bending asanas for the condition, including cobra and camel pose. He also suggests triangle and extended side angle poses to alleviate pressure on the spinal nerves.
Asanas for Piriformis Syndrome
Another common cause of sciatica is pressure on the nerve from the piriformis, a deep muscle in your derriere that turns your thigh out. The sciatic nerve passes directly under the piriformis, and in some cases, through it. If your piriformis spasms, it can irritate the sciatic nerve. Fishman recommends several asanas to stretch the piriformis, including half lord of the fishes, rotated triangle and rotated half moon pose. Pigeon pose also stretches the piriformis.
There are many possible causes of sciatica. Because the origins of sciatic pain are so varied, consult with a physician before beginning any exercise program. What may be helpful for one cause could be harmful for another. Work with a qualified yoga teacher who can help you create a safe routine. Therapeutic yoga and yoga styles that focus on healthy alignment may be better for you than more vigorous, athletic styles.
- "Sciatica Solutions"; Loren Fishman and Carol Ardman
- "Relief Is in the Stretch: End Back Pain Through Yoga"; Loren Fishman and Carol Ardman
Joe Miller started writing professionally in 1991. He specializes in writing about health and fitness and has written for "Fit Yoga" magazine and the New York Times City Room blog. He holds a master's degree in applied physiology from Columbia University, Teacher's College.