Sciatica Pain affects people between 30 and 50 and is exacerbated by weight gain and extended hours of sitting. The extra weight on the body puts stress and compression in the sciatic nerve which runs down the lower back to the buttocks, the back of the thighs, and legs, and causes pain.
The pain may present on the outside or the front of the leg, depending on where the compression is, and may only happen on one side of the body. It is described as a shooting pain that may come suddenly after an activity such as lifting heavy objects, weight gain from pregnancy, or even gradually. Depending on the quality of the pain and the area where it is most present, the sciatica pain may be caused by a more serious condition like a herniated disc or injury to the piriformis muscle, so tune into the body and the pain and get to know what your body is trying to tell you with each sensation.
For most, sciatica pain will go away on its own. However, many suffer from chronic sciatica pain which affects even normal walking or running.
Fortunately, the pain can be managed and even be rehabilitated through mindfulness of the body and some yoga poses and sequences that will help to decompress the sciatic nerve.
Poses to Avoid and Why
Although some studies have shown that movement practices like Feldenkrais and yoga can help alleviate sciatica pain, also be wary that some yoga poses may actually make the condition even worse. This is because some body positions will compress the sciatic nerve even more, leading to a cycle of pain that will only worsen if not addressed.
Asana like Utkatasana (Forward Fold), Trikonasana (Triangle and Twisted Triangle), and Hanumanasana (Splits) on the ground should be avoided until the pain cause by sciatica is no longer felt, or at least must be practiced with caution and with the use of blocks and other yoga props to keep too much weight off the lower back and sciatic nerve.
General Movement Tips For Lower Back Decompression
In general, sciatica pain will only be relieved with rest, time, and rehabilitation of the area with proper, mindful movement, especially while doing standing poses in a yoga class. Ana Forrest, creator of Forrest Yoga, recommends students which sciatica pain to tuck in their tail bone to decompress the lower back, to pull in the abs to keep the core active and keep weight off the pelvis, and to keep the lower legs active by lifting the toes of both feet and keeping them spread in all standing poses.
Poses to Ease Sciatica Pain
Although her alignment tips may not be standard to most classical yoga manuals, they will help retrain the body to be more gentle on the areas of the body affected by sciatica pain.
Bhujangasana — Cobra With A Roll Between Legs And/Or Under Belly Pose
Cobra pose can help stretch the lower back gently and decompress the sciatic nerve. Keep the buttock muscles relaxed and instead, roll up a towel to squeeze between the thighs. For an extra stretch, also place a rolled up towel underneath the belly (made sure it doesn’t press on the ribs).
Adho Mukha Svanasana — Downward Facing Dog Pose or Dolphin with Splits in the Air
Doing splits on the ground can make sciatica pain worse, but practicing splits while in Downward Facing Dog (or Dolphin if your wrists are sore) can help stretch out the legs without the stress or compression on the nerve. Just remember not to force anything and if the hamstrings are tight, keep the knees bend and heels may stay hovering off the ground.
Supta Matsyendrasana — Reclined Spinal Twist Pose
Twists are great for spinal decompression. You can do seated twists like Ardha Matsyendrasana / Half Lord of the Fish pose, or any variation of Supine Twists that feel comfortable for you and don’t trigger the sciatica pain. When practicing a twist while laying down, try to also tuck in the tailbone without clenching the butt muscles in order to lengthen the spine while twisting for added decompression.
Supta Gomukhasana — Cow Face Pose
The traditional Gomukhasana / Cow Face Pose may make sciatica even worse, but with proper modifications, it can be therapeutic for the sciatic nerve. The pose will internally rotate the thighs and stretch the hips. Supta Gomukhasana is a reclined version of Cow Face Pose which has all the benefits without pinching the sciatic nerve. Get into this modified asana by laying on the back, stacking the knees over each other like a regular seated Gomukhasana, and taking hold of the feet or toes (use a strap if necessary). Stay a few minutes on one side without pushing or pulling too hard then switch legs.
Eka Pada Rajakapotasana — One-Legged King Pigeon Prep with Modifications aka “Funky Pigeon” Pose
Pigeon is another pose that can potentially make sciatica pain worse unless practiced with some simple modifications. A “Funky Pigeon” variation is set up by starting on all fours and bringing the left knee towards the left wrist. Then allow the left hip to rest on the ground (as opposed to keeping the hips both facing forward like a traditional Pigeon). The back leg can stay bend and relaxed on the floor. Start by folding forward in the direction of the toes first for a few minutes, then in the direction of the bent knee. Afterwards, come out of the Funky Pigeon carefully and switch up the legs.
Supta Virasana — Reclining Hero Pose
Although Supta Virasana is considered an intermediate yoga pose, those who can lay in it comfortably can safely benefit from the stretch it gives to the quadriceps, lower back, and even chest. You must first be able to do Virasana safely before progressing to this reclined version. To lessen the intensity of the asana, it may be modified by practicing it one leg at a time or laying on pillows, bolsters, and blankets at the right height.
Supta Padangusthasana — Reclined Hand To Big Toe Pose
This pose will help to target tight hamstrings without compressing or contracting the hips or buttocks. Lengthening the hamstrings will not only help make the legs more flexible but also lessen the strain on the lower back leading to sciatica pain. Ensure that the leg is straight in the pose and use a strap to reach the foot if needed.
Savasana — Corpse Pose
No other pose will help you to completely relax and tune in to what the body needs like Savasana. Although most yoga classes end with this pose, it is also a good practice to start with it or even use it as a resting pose anywhere in the practice.
Sciatica pain, especially when it becomes chronic, can be difficult to live with. Fortunately, it is a mostly treatable ailment. And with the help of a mindful yoga practice with special care to modify poses as needed, sciatica pain can be rehabilitated and be healed.