Finding Relief from Sciatic Pain
As I wrote in my last blog, sciatica is a painful condition commonly felt along the path of the large sciatic nerve. It can be the result of a tight or overused piriformis muscle or of a bone related condition, such as a herniated or bulging disc or spinal stenosis, commonly referred to as “true” sciatica. Today let’s examine the causes and symptoms of “true” sciatica.
Causes and Symptoms of “True” Sciatica
“True” sciatica originates in the lumbar spine where there is compression at the nerve root. While lumbar disc damage is to blame for compression of the nerve, other conditions, such as spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis and spondlylosis, can also be responsible. Sciatic pain due to lumbar disc damage is characterized by one or more of the following features:
- Pain. Sciatica pain typically feels like a constant burning sensation or a shooting pain starting in the lower back or buttock and radiating down the front or back of the thigh, leg and/or foot. Rather than being a dull ache, the pain is “sharp” or “searing.”
- Numbness. Bone related sciatica pain may be accompanied by numbness in the back of the leg or foot. Tingling and/or weakness may also be present.
- One-sided symptoms. Sciatica typically affects one leg. The condition often results in a feeling of heaviness in the affected leg or drop foot, difficulty in lifting the front part of the foot which makes walking challenging.
In order to treat the sciatic pain without aggravating or worsening the underlying bone related condition, I urge you to see your doctor and receive an accurate diagnosis.
4 Yoga Poses for Pain Relief
If you have clearance from your doctor or your symptoms are mild, here is a simple four (4) pose sequence for bone related sciatica.
**Please note: if you are in acute pain, proceed cautiously. Stop if any of these poses increases your pain. You might be better served by working with a yoga therapist or physical therapist who specializes in back pain to address your individual situation.
1- Flowing Cat-Cow (Cakravakasana)
This pose is great for overall spinal health as it increases circulation throughout the musculature around the spine and imbibing the intervertebral discs of the spine with fluid.
Begin on all fours in tabletop position with your wrists under or slightly in front of your shoulders. Knees should be directly under hips. On an inhale, draw back on the palms and lengthen the chest forward. There will be a small arch in the lumbar spine, but keep the neck long and chin slightly tucked.
As you exhale, engage your low belly, bringing your forearms to the floor and hips towards the heels. Be sure to relax your neck as your forehead comes to the floor. With the next inhale, draw your chest forward, arching the low back slightly as you come back into tabletop. Repeat 6-8 times, finishing by resting in child’s pose with your head resting on the floor, folded arms or stacked fists.
2- Cobra (Bhujangasana)
Cobra is a gentle backbend which strengthens the back muscles and can aid in healing and retracting the intervertebral discs.
Come to lie on your stomach with your hands under your shoulders. Allow the inner edges of the legs to touch, pressing the tops of the toenails into the floor. Rest your right cheek on the floor. To begin, gently press your pubic bone into the floor to lengthen the lumbar spine. Keeping the neck long, inhale to lift the shoulders, neck and head. Do not press into your hands.
As you exhale, slowly lower the upper torso, turning your head to rest the left cheek on the floor. Repeat 3-6 times, alternating turning the head. You may choose to stay with the head and chest lifted for several breaths on the last repetition.
When finished, take time to rest on your belly in crocodile pose, with your forehead on your folded arms, for a few breaths. If this is not comfortable, roll over onto your back in preparation for the next pose, apanasana.
3- Knees-to-Chest (Apanasana)
Apanasana, or “wind relieving pose,” is the safest forward bend for people with low back issues, especially lumbar disc damage. It not only increases circulation to the low back, but also stretches the muscles, helping to create space for bulging discs to retract. It one of my personal “go-to” poses when my low back is hurting.
Start lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Take a few breaths here, allowing your spine to settle into the floor. Next, bend both knees in towards your chest with both hands either on or behind the knees.
Take a deep inhale, as as you start to exhale, gently draw the muscles of the pelvic floor and abs in and up, as if you were zipping up tight jeans, bringing both knees towards your chest. Be sure to keep the neck long and the chin slightly tucked, using a folded blanket to support your head as needed.
On your next inhale, soften the belly from the top down, allowing the thighs to move away slightly. Repeat this 5-8 times, finishing by holding the knees in towards the belly for 4-5 breaths. You might choose to circle the knees as you hold. To come out of the pose, slowly release one foot at a to the floor. Pause in this position for several breaths before moving on to the final pose.
4- Reclined Bound Angle (Supta Baddha Konasana)
This final pose hydrates whole pelvic region, increasing circulation to the low back. One of my teachers calls this a “yoga band-aid” for low back pain. See what you think.
Allow the soles of your feet to come together and the knees to open out to the sides. If this causes any low back discomfort, feel free to support your knees with blocks, pillows or folded towels.
Begin by bringing the pubic bone towards the belly button to lengthen the lumbar spine. Keeping the low belly gently engaged, take an inhale. As you exhale, slowly start moving the knees towards one another, allowing them to come only half way up. The knees should move for the entire length of the exhale. Pause here, taking another inhale.
On the next exhale, allow the knees to again move slowly towards one another, coming to touch with the soles of the feet on the floor. Repeat bringing the knees up in thirds and then quarters. The object here is to move slowly and mindfully during the entire length of each exhale. To finish, either stretch the legs out long, coming into savasana, or bring the knees into the chest and rock side-to-side.
I hope these poses bring you some sciatic pain relief. I’d love to hear your feedback and answer your questions, so feel free to comment or reach out. Be well!