Ask anyone who suffers with sciatica and they’ll tell you the shooting, stinging pain running down their leg can be maddening. One moment it can be in your hip, the next it’s in your knee, keeping you awake at night and preventing you from doing simple tasks like walking or driving without pain.
Sciatica is one of the more common chronic pain issues we see as Yoga Therapists and yoga is well suited to deal with this issue.
From a physical perspective, we usually see two different types of situations when it comes to sciatica. One deals with the piriformis, a muscle in your hip. The sciatic nerve actually runs near (or sometimes through) the piriformis muscle, and when the muscle is tight, it can put pressure on the nerve, causing pain down the leg. This is sometimes referred to as piriformis syndrome.
The other common issue has to deal with the lower vertebrae, either in the sacrum, or just above in the lumbar spine. In this case, there is usually compression of two vertebrae that squeeze the nerve to create the same kind of pain.
And, of course, sometimes it can be both.
Either way, the fix is similar. In your first session with a Yoga Therapist, we will muscle test you to find out what muscles are tight and what muscles are weak. This is the process of the Yoga Therapist moving you around and using some resistance to find out what muscles need to be strengthened and which ones need to be stretched.
As you might guess, for a tight piriformis, we’ll stretch that muscle in poses like Reclining Pigeon. But we’ll also want to strengthen the antagonist muscle of the piriformis (the muscle that works with the piriformis to move your your hips), which are the hip adductors, or the inside of your thighs. Putting a block to squeeze inbetween the legs in Chair Pose or Bridge Pose can strengthen these muscles. This combination can stretch the piriformis, creating space for the sciatic nerve.
For compression in the spine, we often find that clients have weak “core” muscles, both the abs in front and the erector muscles along the spine. However, some times it’s weak leg muscles like the hamstrings (back of the thighs) causing issues. Strengthening these muscles in poses like Boat, Locust and Bridge can bring stability to the sacrum and length to the spine, releasing pressure on the nerves. Of course it can be other muscles, too. The idea is that we use physical poses to correct whatever muscle imbalances are present.
(Although it might be tempting to try one or two of these poses ala carte to see what helps, I highly recommend meeting with a Yoga Therapist to get a full sequence of poses. Warming up the correct muscles is an important part of the process.)
From an energetic perspective, the roaming pain of sciatica can sometimes be linked to a roaming energy imbalance. Grounding breathwork, along with root chakra balancing techniques, can help balance that energy, as well as help with pain levels. Also, lower spine and sacrum issues often accompany major, or you could say “foundational,” changes in a person’s life. Yoga philosophy can help put perspective on those changes as well. Back pain may not seem like a mental/emotional issue, but as yoga therapists we often see a connection. Your mind and body do not exist independent of one another.
As with every condition, Yoga Therapists work holistically to help our clients physically, mentally, and emotionally. If you are ready to start the process of education about your specific condition and find ways to help yourself, please contact us!
Joe Simek is a Certified Yoga Therapist, 500-Hour Level Yoga Teacher, and Co-owner of Dragonfly Yoga Studio. Joe has been practicing yoga for more than a decade, using the wisdom of the teachings to lose weight, get sober, and abandon the corporate grind. In 2012, he formalized his yoga education, completing Dragonfly’s 200 HR Yoga Teacher Training. Joe went on to study Yoga Therapy and Peaceful Weight Loss Through Yoga with Brandt Passalacqua of Breathing Deeply Yoga Therapy (where he is now a Teaching Assistant) and Advanced Vinyasa Yoga with Rolf Gates. In 2016, Joe co-founded The Fiaria Project, a non-profit organization that aids foster children. He is also the frontman of Destroy It Up, an indie rock music project inspired by yoga philosophy. Joe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Arizona State University.