Want to Relieve Your Sciatica Pain? Try These Top 7 Yoga Poses
Sciatica goes way back in history. Our ancestors have been trying to get rid of it ever since the 5th century BCE. For example, hot coals and leeches were used in ancient Roman times, and injections were used in the 20th century.
In other words, many have tried to rid themselves of the pain using all sorts of natural and modern treatments, which rarely (if ever) get the job done. Luckily, there are ways to overcome the pain using yoga techniques.
But before we reveal them to you, let us first take a closer look at sciatica.
What is It and What Are the Symptoms?
Basically, it is pain and tenderness which can occur anywhere along one’s sciatic nerve (hence the name). Each leg has a sciatic nerve, which means most people have two. Did you know that these are our body’s longest nerves?
And since the sciatica passes through one’s gluteus maximus and thigh area, any pain, burning or tingling sensations in one’s thighs are usually a sign of sciatica. But there are many other symptoms, such as:
- Pain in one’s calf, buttock, lower back, thigh. Basically, anywhere along the pathway of the sciatic nerve.
- Numbness and fatigue in one’s legs or feet.
- A burning, tingling, electric sensation similar to pins-and-needles and known as paresthesia.
- Weakness in one’s knees which can cause them to buckle after one stands up.
- A condition where one finds it hard to flex one’s ankles enough in order to walk on their heels, called ‘foot drop’.
- Reflex reduction in one’s knee and Achilles tendon.
Moreover, sciatica most often occurs when one is running, bending over, sitting (particularly if driving) and during several passive and active daily movements.
The causes of sciatica can be many and varied. So it’s always a good idea to seek medical help first and foremost, and do some testing to see what exactly is causing your sciatica.
How to Recognize Piriformis Syndrome
The Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine published a study back in 2005 where they stated that nearly 70% of all those who suffer from sciatica, are experiencing problems caused by the piriformis muscle. But how can you be sure whether or not you belong to this group?
Here are some signals:
- Having a hard time talking on your toes or heels.
- Stiffness in your legs
- Burning in the back of your thigh
- Pain and a tingling sensation at the back of your thigh while in a sitting position. This pain might be relieved when you stand up, but a numbness in your toes is bound to follow.
- Pain in one’s buttocks after sitting for long periods or exercising too much. Other symptoms might include tingling, burning, numbness or weakness. And while there may be some pain while being active, it is usually much worse after you sit down.
- Pins-and-needles accompanied by pain down the outer side of your calf, which may reach to the web space of your fourth and little toes.
Also, you can try the F.A.I.R. test which includes flexing, adducting, and internally rotating your thigh. If you feel pain in your hip while in this position then piriformis is probably the reason for your sciatica.
How Yoga Can Help
If your sciatica is caused by, say, a bulging or herniated disk, practicing yoga and progressing from gentle, easy poses and moving on to foundational basic asanas will help naturally strengthen, lengthen and align your lower back.
And remember, a herniated disk does not always have to require surgical procedures. Yoga has been proven to help reduce any symptoms and keep them under control. In some cases, it can even cause a reduction in the herniation itself.
But it’s crucial that you consult with your doctor on just how severe the herniation is in your case. In particularly severe cases, surgery may be needed after all. As for the rest, yoga is here to relieve any pains and bothers you have.
For instance, if a tight piriformis (which performs pressure on your nerve) happens to be the cause of your sciatica, then your logical step is to stretch the muscle without hurting it.
You can do so using gentle but progressive movements. Read on below to find out about the 7 yoga poses for soothing any sciatica-caused pain.
This is basically a halfway spinal twist, a piriformis stretch which encourages it to lengthen and release. The intensity of this pose progresses as you approach its fullness. Just make sure not to stretch too forcibly as that can have an adverse effect, instead of a desired beneficial one.
You should adjust the pose so that you only feel minimal levels of discomfort. The instructions below are for stretching your left hip. After you’re done, make sure to do the same with your right one.
1. Spinal Twist Prep
Your starting position should be a sitting one, knees bent and feet in front of your body. This should be on the corner of a folded blanket on the floor.
Now just place the right foot under the left knee. It should be around the outer side of the left hip. The idea is that the right knee points forward. For stretching your hip in a mild manner, the left foot should be placed to the inner side of the right knee.
That way it should be aligned with the left hip. And if you want to stretch in a stronger manner, then the left foot should be placed on the outer side of the right knee.
The left sitting bone should be lighter on the ground than the other. Make sure to sit on the left bone in order to create a balance between the hips. This is the start of your stretching. You can hold onto the left knee for steadying yourself.
Once you’ve found your balance, simply inhale and lengthen yourself in an upward motion through the spine. If this stretch appears too intense or if any pain radiates down the leg, this just means you need to place more padding under the hips until you personally feel that performing this stretch is tolerable.
You should remain in this yoga pose from 20 seconds up to a few minutes. Once you’re done, repeat the whole thing again with your other side this time. It’s best to perform 2-4 sets at one time.
Over time, once your piriformis muscles stretch out, you can gradually lower the height of the blanket until you are fully sitting on the floor.
2. Seated Twist
In ardha matsyendrasana’s full version, one’s upper body is supposed to turn toward their upright knee. In order to help your body do this, place the left hand on the ground behind you. Continue holding the left knee using the right hand.
Try to maintain the natural curve of the lower back. Now inhale, thus lengthening, lifting and expanding. Then exhale, thus twisting without the rounding of your back.
While twisting, use the hand on the left knee to gently hug or draw the knee toward your chest. Proceed by relaxing your inner groin and thigh, allowing it to naturally drop downward to the sitting bone.
And while drawing the knee towards the chest with (at least mild) resistance, the thigh bone should release laterally out at your hip, which in turn presses against your piriformis and encourages it to release.
The twist should deepen with you drawing the knee into the elbow, or taking the upper arm to the outer side of the knee. This yoga pose gets more active when you press the knee against your arm in order to achieve a deeper twist.
But be careful: if you happen to be suffering from piriformis syndrome, the last thing you want to do is tighten your muscles further. So take care not to go into this twist too deeply.
3. Standing Twist
This is somewhat of a milder version of the previous stretch we discussed. The whole point is to bring one’s thigh into internal rotation and adduction. Start off by placing a chair against a nearby wall.
Now just stand with the right side against that wall, in order to give the right hip a proper stretching. Your knee should be bent 90° as you put the right foot onto the chair. Now try and maintain balance by keeping the standing leg as straight as possible.
You should also place the right hand onto the wall. Proceed by turning the body toward the wall after you have lifted the left heel as high as you can.
You should also make use of both hands to keep up your balance. Exhale, lowering the left heel to the ground. Make sure you are properly maintaining your twist.
Now just let the right hip descend, all while making sure your hips are relatively levelled. Hold this yoga pose for several short moments.
More Sciatica Stretches
Hamstring stretches are also rather popular when it comes to the role of relieving one’s sciatic pain. You see, there can be a tightening of your hamstrings along with your surrounding muscles, which leads to a constructed sciatic nerve, something which is to be avoided.
Such sciatic pain often occurs from daily activities like driving (particularly for long periods of time) and this especially when one’s car seat tends to encourage a rounded or slumped posture. It can also occur during any athletic activities.
In the case that it does indeed occur, take a break from such activities immediately, and proceed by doing the hamstring stretches we are about to show you.
4. Hamstring Stretches (Standing)
Start off by placing the right foot on some kind of support, such as, say, a bench, chair or even a table. It all depends on where you are at the moment and what you can find to use for proper support. The foot should be placed either below or at hip level.
Your toes and knee should also be pointing straight outwards, and your leg should be in a straight position too. Your quadriceps are also engaged in such a position.
Furthermore, in case your knee has a tendency to either hyperextend or lock, your best solution would be to use a microbend in order to protect it.
Also, be sure that the hip of the raised leg is releasing in a downward motion instead of being lifted. But be careful not to let the foot or leg turn outward either.
Hold this yoga pose for several short moments, and then repeat on each side. In case you want to perform a deeper stretch, what you need to do is bend at the hip crease over the leg. Your quadriceps should be firm and your leg and spine as straight as possible.
You can alternate this pose between both legs, or you can completely concentrate on your affected side. Either way, hold it for a few short moments.
Another 3 Yoga Poses to Help Open Your Hips
In order to rid themselves from any sciatic pain, most people avoid poses such as the baddha konasana (also called ‘cobbler’s pose’) which helps to tighten one’s deep hip rotators by actively rotating one’s thigh outward.
On the other hand, the poses that should be used are the ones which passively stretch one’s hip (and one’s thigh is rotated externally), as this is what helps us get rid of the sciatic pain.
5. Modified Gomukhasana
This yoga pose, also referred to as ‘cow’s face pose’ is a great example of passively stretching one’s hip rotators. Your starting position is a sitting one on the ground, with both your legs extended forward.
Proceed by bending the right knee and bringing the right leg over and across the left leg.
Now by using your hand just draw the right foot as close to the outer left hip as you can. Next, move the left foot to the right across your midline. Using both hands placed on the floor, proceed by lifting and wiggling the hips until the knees are stacked.
The right knee should be above the left. Hold the right foot still using your left hand. Breathing in, lengthen and lift going through the spine to your head’s crown. While exhaling, try folding forward and bring the chest towards the knee.
Your neck should be relaxed and outstretched. Keeping your spine extended, try and move like you are bringing the navel towards the knee. Now just hold this yoga pose from a few short moments to 1 minute (or even more), then simply repeat the whole process with the other side as well.
6. Hip Stretch – King Pigeon Pose
Raja kapotasana (or some also called it ‘king pigeon pose’) can freely be titled the strongest of all the piriformis stretches.
Your starting position is on your knees and hands. Proceed by bringing the right knee out to the right. You should also bring the right foot forward, at least until the heel is aligned with the left hip. The shin should also be at about a 45 ° angle.
In order to properly protect your knee, keep the foot flexed. Now lean the upper body forward and tuck the left toes under. Then walk or slide the left leg right back.
This allows the right thigh to passively rotate while the hip descends towards the ground. This is all for stretching your right piriformis. Make sure the hips are square to the mat’s front and level with the floor.
Be careful not to allow the pelvis fall to one side or turn in any way. You can support the right hip using a blanket. Now just stay in this yoga position ranging from a few short moments to a whole minute.
7. King Pigeon Pose – Easier Alternative
But remember: in case you happen to find this pose simply too difficult or intense, you can always opt for a variation instead. Namely, you can place the right leg onto a table and lean as forward as you can, making use to maintain balance on the table using both hands.
Then, just walk your left foot back. This should be easier to do than the other yoga pose.