How to Prevent and Relieve Sciatica with Yoga?

Apart from all benefits of yoga to psychological health of us, yoga also amazes with its physiological benefits and its positive effects on sciatica is one of them. Also known as the back pain caused by a problem with the sciatic nerve, sciatica is a big trouble to complete even the simplest tasks of daily life. With a couple of simple yoga poses that you can do during the day, it is easy to relieve your pain and prevent this problem from the start.

Addition to its positive effects on psychology, it is shown that yoga is amazingly helpful to human physiology as it has positive effects on many physiological problems. Sciatica, which results from problems in the sciatic nerves, is very painful and has a various limiting effect on our daily movements. However, practicing basic yoga poses can be very helpful to overcome these problems that we encounter.

What is the sciatic nerve?

The sciatic nerve begins from the low back and then goes through the back of each leg. It is the longest and widest single nerve found in the body. The nerve fibers unite and form the sciatic nerve behind the piriformis muscle that seems to be the location where the pain stems from in many sciatica cases.

The sciatic nerve is responsible for the communication between the nervous system and feet, the skin of the legs and feet, muscles of the lower legs and feet and muscles of the back of the thighs. Thus, the majority of the sensation in legs comes from sciatic nerves.

The Sciatica

Sciatica is the pain and tenderness that is felt along the sciatic nerve. It shows it affects typically on one side of the body. Two sciatic nerves are found on each side of the body – each leg has its own sciatic nerve. Sciatic nerves are known to be the longest nerves in our body. Sciatica mostly flares up during our daily movements such as sitting, bending over and running. Symptoms can be listed as,

  • Pain in the lower back, back of thigh, buttock and/or calf (anywhere along the sciatic nerve)
  • Burning, tingling feeling is also known as paresthesia.
  • Fatigue and loss of feeling in legs and/or feet
  • Foot drop: which is the situation which you are not able to flex your ankles enough to walk on your heels.
  • A decrease in the reflexes in Achilles tendon and knee.
  • Feeling of weakness which can result in your knees to buckle when you stand up from sitting.

What causes sciatica?

Sciatica can be a result of a bone-related or muscle-related disorder. Here are 3 major causes of sciatica :

•    Degenerative Disc Disease

Due to the aging process and the wear and tear of the spinal column, the weakened discs occur and this results in excessive micro-movements of the vertebrate that lead irritation of the nerves and inflammation.

•    Piriformis Syndrome

It results from the sciatic nerve running below the piriformis muscle and in some cases, the nerve travels through the fibers of the piriformis muscle. When the piriformis muscle is tight, it might pinch on the sciatic nerve.

•    Lumbar Spinal Stenosis

Occurs due to narrowing of the spinal column which results from the degeneration, and wear, tear of soft connective tissue which supports the bones of the spine and the discs between them.

What is yoga?

Yoga is a mental, spiritual and physical practice that aims to join the mind, spirit and the body. Originating from India, it has been practiced for thousands of years and it has developed into various forms based on their own emphasis and practices.

The main purpose of the yoga is to help each one of us to gain our highest potential end experience the happiness and durable health. It has positive effects on our physical and psychological health and it improves the quality of our lives. Since yoga works on various levels, it provides high potential in the therapy of chronic diseases.

Various forms of yoga that are specialized in different perspectives are very helpful in both the psychological and physiological states of us. It helps to align the vertebrae, strengthens the muscles and connective tissue, and increases flexibility. Moreover, with yoga the internal organs are rejuvenated and toned: the digestive, lymphatic, cardiovascular, pulmonary, and epidermal systems are purified from the waste material and toxins; the nervous and endocrine systems are balanced and the brain cells are stimulated.  Overall, these results in increased mental clarity, and a better sense of well-being and self-recognition.

How can yoga help?

Yoga is one of the best preventive measures that can be taken in order to decrease the chances of having the unbearable pain of sciatica. Having a strong and supple spine, and muscles to support the spine promotes these systems own health and longevity. Moreover, yoga has positive effects on the sensory and motor nerves that leave and enter the spinal column.

The main causes of sciatica results from nerve compression, nerve irradiation due to vertebral problems (not enough space between, fractures and collapse, narrowing) and disc herniation. To overcome these problems, a well-planned yoga practice to manipulate the spine into its six natural movements of extension, flexion, right and left lateral flexion, and right and left twisting can be very beneficial.

Due to its positive effects on these physiological systems, yoga is a great preventive and relaxing practice for the pain caused by sciatica.  However, it is important to ask a doctor about the severity of the disorder. Also, it is important to follow a gentle approach while doing yoga since overworking can lead to spasm and deep buttock pain which may or may not be accompanied by sciatic pain.

Can yoga cause sciatica?

Sometimes yogis develop wrong habits in some poses and these can result in pressure on the lumbar spine and can irritate the sciatic nerves. Thus, it can result in sciatic pain. In other words, it is important to avoid these wrong habits that force our body in a harmful way.

Action plan

Various approaches to using yoga can be chosen to overcome sciatica and its harmful effects on our daily life. The plan must be prepared accordingly with the severity of the pain and the yoga experience. Since sciatica differs from person to person, it is important to make the action plan accordingly with what benefits you the most.

The action plan is set with 3 steps:

  • Soothe the Pain: Variety of props such as straps, belts, and blocks can be used to release any discomfort and pain.
  • Understand proper alignment and find out where is the problem
  • Build muscle strength to maintain correct alignment

As you choose yoga as a solution to your problems due to sciatica, it is recommended to cut back all other activities (running, dancing, etc.) at first. The term ‘baby steps’ explains well in this situation, with one step at a time approach it would be better and easier to relieve your pain and problems you encounter.

Here are 7 yoga poses to relieve sciatica :

Embryo’s Pose

The tightness in the lower back that is often caused by sitting can cause pinching of the sciatic nerve. Embryo’s pose relieves the tightness in the lower back and glutes, relieves the pinching.

To get into this pose, you need to start your hands and knees in a tabletop position. Then, you will bring your legs together and untuck the toes. Later, you will sit with your hips back and your heels and walk your hands forward until your chest rests on your thighs and your forehead is placed to the ground. After you place your head o the ground, you will bring your arms alongside your legs and your hands will be reaching towards your feet. Lastly, you will turn your palms face up. This pose must be maintained for 10 breaths.

Pigeon Pose

Pigeon pose relieves the tightness and pinching of the sciatic nerve by the release of the glutes, hips, and lower back.

To get into this pose, you will start your hands and knees in a tabletop position. Later, pick your right leg and bring it forward and place it to the top of your mat. Align your right knee behind your right wrists and keep your foot slightly flexed. Then, straighten your left leg behind while you toes untucked to the math. The foot should be in straight alignment with your left hip. You will feel a stretch through your right outer hip and lower back. Later, you will lift your chest and inhale to find the correct spinal alignment. While exhaling, walk your hands forward toward the top of the mat. This pose should be maintained for 8 slow breaths.

Pigeon in the Chair

Pigeon in the chair pose is good for the piriformis stretch. This pose is an alternative pose for those who cannot lie on their backs comfortably.

Start the pose by sitting on a chair which you can sit comfortably with both your feet are flat on the floor and your thighs roughly parallel to the floor. Then, place your right ankle near your left knee and try to relax your right knee towards the floor. Later, repeat this with your left side of your body.

Bird-dog Pose

With this pose, your core muscles and lumbar spine will be strengthened and stretched.

Start the pose on your hands and knees while your palms are flat on the ground under your shoulders and your knees placed under your hips. Then you will extend your right arm straight in front of you and extend your left leg straight out at the same time. Your arms and legs must be straight and at the level. You should maintain this position with a few deep breaths. Later, go back to the start position gently and repeat the steps for the left arm and right leg.

Downward Facing Dog

The Downward dog provides a full body stretch which relieves the tight hamstrings.

First, come onto the floor on your hands and knees. Your knees should be right below your hips and your hands will be placed slightly forward of your shoulders. Place your palms, your index fingers parallel or slightly turned out and turn your toes under. Then lift your knees from the floor while exhaling. Then lengthen your tailbone away from the back of your pelvis and press it lightly toward the pubis. Lift your sitting bones toward the ceiling and draw your inner legs into the grains from your inner ankles.

During the exhale, push your thighs back and stretch your heels onto the floor. Later, straighten your knees without locking them. Firm your outer thighs and slightly roll the upper thighs inward. Then, press your index fingers actively into floor and firm your outer arms. From these points, lift your inner arm from the wrists to the top of the shoulders. Firm your shoulder blades against your back. Later, widen them and draw them toward the tailbone. Keep your head between your upper arms without letting it hang. This pose should be maintained for 1 to 3 minutes. Finally, bend your knees to the floor while exhaling and later rest in child’s pose.

Cobra Pose

This pose is also beneficial to strengthen and stretch your lumbar spine and core muscles.

Begin the pose from lying flat on your stomach while your legs are straight. Place your palms next to your body on the ground and tuck your elbows close to your sides. During inhaling, lift your chest from the ground by pushing through your arms. While your back is arched, your hips and lower body should be pressed against the ground. This pose should be maintained for 10 – 20 seconds. Later, lower your torso back to the ground gently. As you are comfortable, you can repeat this pose.

Seated Spinal Twist

Start the pose by sitting upright, your legs extended forward while your hands rest on your thighs. Then, bend your right knee and cross your right leg over by placing your foot to your left thigh. Later, bend your left knee and position your left ankle next to your right glute. While doing this, your right foot should remain planted on the floor. After that,  reach your right arm behind you and place your fingertips onto the floor. Gently twist your body to the right and raise your left arm upward. Finally, hook your left arm around your bent knee. Take a deep breath and further twist while you are exhaling. Try to twist further with each exhale. Afterward, repeat this pose with the other side of your body.

Savaş Ateş

I like meditation and yoga. I read a lot of books about them. I applied them in my daily life. I want to write about my experiences.

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