Yoga, especially styles like yin that focus on deep stretching can provide relief for those with chronic low back issues and sciatic pain. Doing specific yoga poses like gentle backbends and forward bends can help keep your spine healthy and flexible. Yoga poses that involve stretching your hips, hamstrings, and glutes can also be especially useful for lower back pain and sciatica.
What Causes Sciatica?
Sciatica is a fairly common condition that causes pain in your lower back and leg. The pain is caused by irritation of the sciatic nerve, which is the longest and largest nerve in the body. The sciatic nerve runs from your lower back down through your buttocks and leg, and ends in your foot. There are a number of things that can cause sciatica, but the most common cause is a herniated disc, which is a disc that has bulged or slipped out of place between the vertebrae in your spine which then puts pressure on your sciatic nerve, causing pain.
Another cause of sciatica is lumbar spinal stenosis. Spinal stenosis, or nerve compression, occurs due to the narrowing of the spinal canal, which is a cavity that houses the spinal cord. As this space narrows, the nerves are put under pressure, which can interfere with the normal signaling of sensory and motor signals. Piriformis Syndrome (PS) isn’t as common as disc herniation or spinal stenosis, but can also feel like sciatica. PS is a neuromuscular condition that occurs when the piriformis muscle, a narrow, flat muscle that runs from the lower spine, through the buttocks, to the top of the thigh becomes inflamed and compresses the sciatic nerve.
The main symptom of sciatica is pain that starts in your lower back and travels down your leg, often to your foot. The pain can be sharp, shooting, or burning, and may also be accompanied by numbness or tingling in your leg.
Can Yoga Ease Your Sciatica Woes?
Physical therapy is often a good place to start for treatment as diagnosing the exact source of the compression is difficult. MRI and CT scans can help identify disc or stenosis involvement, but sacroiliac joint dysfunction or piriformis syndrome won’t show on those scans and physical or massage therapists are usually the ones to identify the problem and provide relief in those instances. In many cases, various types of exercise programs are recommended to those with sciatica, including a yoga practice that focuses on certain gentle movements and stretches.
Gentle poses that improve the mobility of your lower back, the location of much of the sciatic nerve compression may be of help. In cases where sciatica has derived from habitual flexion (rounding) of the back, mild extension (backbending) can be part of the solution. Not only can tightness in the glutes and hamstrings restrict the sciatic nerve, but tightness in those muscles may also result from and contribute to poor posture. If tightness in your piriformis or gluteal muscles are an issue, doing stretches that both internally and externally rotate your hips may be helpful.
Here are some ways that yoga can be a powerful tool in managing sciatica:
- Stretches key muscles: Tightness in the piriformis, hamstrings, and lower back muscles can contribute to sciatic nerve irritation. Yoga’s gentle stretches can help loosen these muscles and create space for the nerve.
- Improves flexibility: Sciatica can lead to decreased flexibility, making movement even more painful. Yoga’s focus on stretching and mobility can help regain lost range of motion and ease everyday activities.
- Boosts mood and stress management: Chronic pain can take a toll on your mental well-being. Yoga’s stress-reducing techniques like deep breathing and meditation can help manage stress and improve your overall mood.
While yoga may not be a cure-all for sciatica, it can be a powerful tool in managing your pain and improving your overall well-being. If you’re looking for a slow paced yoga class, designed to stretch some of these areas, Kerry offers weekly yin classes in person and online. You can also explore free pre-recorded yoga practices on her Youtube Channel.