Sciatica is discomfort and/or pain caused by irritation of the sciatic nerve, which runs bilaterally from the base of the spine, through the buttocks and down the back of each leg. The sensations associated with sciatica can vary, including weakness, numbness, tingling, burning, and moderate to extreme pain. Often the symptoms are present on only one side of the back or leg since there is a nerve in each leg.
There are many scenarios that can cause sciatic pain, two of the most common being herniated discs and piriformis syndrome. Yoga may not be an appropriate treatment for some causes of sciatica, so be sure to seek diagnosis from a doctor before preceeding. If your sciatic nerve is being aggravated by a tight piriformis, yoga can help. There are also several yoga positions that are used by physical therapists to relieve the pain of sciatica caused by herniated discs. Hamstring stretches are also recommended in some cases.
1. Pigeon in a Chair
Our first few poses are going to be piriformis stretches. The following three poses are all variations of pigeon, starting here with an option for people who are unable to comfortably lie on their backs. (Conversely, if you find sitting painful, look at the supine version, below.) Try to find a chair in which you can sit comfortably with both feet flat on the floor and your thighs roughly parallel to the floor. Place your right ankle near your left knee and try to relax your right knee toward the floor. Repeat on the left side.
2. Eye of the Needle Pose - Sucirandhrasana
If you can lie on the floor, try eye of the needle pose. You can also do this lying on a bed. Start by bending your right knee and placing the sole of your right foot flat on the floor. Then bend your left knee and cross your left ankle to rest on your right thigh. If this is enough of a stretch, stay here with the right foot on the floor. If you can go further, lift the right leg and pull it toward your body, holding either the back of your thigh or your shin. As the right leg comes toward your body, try to relax your left knee away from you. Release and repeat on the other side.
3. Pigeon Pose - Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (Prep)
If you have good mobility, you can move on to this version of pigeon pose. Place a folded blanket under your butt on the side of your forward leg for support. Do both sides.
4. Cow in a Chair
If your doctor recommends spinal extension to treat a herniated disc, here are some options. As above, we'll start with the version of the posture that is best for people who can't come to the floor. For cow in a chair, sit with both feet flat on the floor and your hands on your knees. Inhale and draw your chest forward, arching your back. Exhale and release. Repeat several times.
5. Cobra - Bhujangasana
If you can lie on your stomach on the floor, you can try a gentle cobra pose. With your your palms on the floor under your shoulders and your elbows bent straight back, anchor your pelvis to the floor, push into your palms, and lift your chest off the floor any amount.
6. Sphinx Pose
If cobra feels ok, you can try sphinx pose. In this version, place your elbows directly under your shoulders.
7. Staff Pose - Dandasana
Hamstring stretches can also help with sciatic nerve pain, but in many cases you want to avoid forward bends since they can aggravate a herniated disc. Sitting in staff pose is a good place to start. You can bring a blanket under your butt if it makes the pose more comfortable. Flex the feet strongly.
8. Reclined Big Toe Pose - Supta Padangusthasana
This reclined big toe pose with a strap is another great hamstring stretch. You can also do a version of this pose lying down in a doorway. Bring your raised leg up the side of the doorway and let the leg on the floor come through the open door.