I've unfortunately suffered through sciatica for years. When it's bad it can be pretty debilitating. Sciatica is when the sciatic nerve is compressed, generally due to tight muscles sitting on the nerve. The sciatic nerve is the biggest in the body and stems from the lower back all the way down the legs.
Yoga can help of course, the main thing is getting to know your body and know where the nerve is being affected. For me, it can stem from my piriformis or further up in my QL. Either way, it's incredibly painful and limits my range of movement considerably. Bending forward aggravates the shooting pain stemming from lower back and even sends referred pain all around my lower back. So when my sciatica flares up, it’s either affecting my lower back, or my legs, sometimes both at the same time. I’ve managed to pinpoint exactly where the nerve is trapped in each case, which really helps me to release it. Here are a couple of things that have worked for me and are worth a try if you’ve had to deal with this.
- Pigeon Pose. Staying in Pigeon for a number of minutes (4-6) can really help to stretch out the piriformis muscle, a muscle stretching across the glute which can be prone to tightness and is often responsible for sitting on the sciatic nerve, sending sharp shooting pains down the leg.
- Forward Folding. Probably the last thing you want to do when suffering with sciatica, however, forward folding can help to release the lower back. If your sciatica is stemming from higher up around your QL, forward folding with bent legs at first can help to stretch out the area. You can work up to straightening the legs, targeting the entire back body when your pain levels are manageable.
- Tennis Balls. Laying on the ground on a tennis ball and using it to target the specific areas. For example, placing the ball around your lower back until you feel pain referral and remaining static, the pain should stop within a few minutes as the muscle releases. I find this is a really beneficial way of releasing tight muscles and freeing up the nerve. It can be uncomfortable, but the results are so worth it.
- Foam Rolling. Using a foam roller around the outer hip (IT band) and the pirifomis and rolling back and forth - very similarly to the tennis ball, can really help to free up the area. A good way of targeting the piriformis is to stretch the area by bending at the knee and placing your ankle over the opposite knee (figure 4 or pigeon pose on your back), placing the foam roller under the glute and rolling back and forth for a few minutes until you feel a release.
- Double Pigeon Pose. Also known as firelog pose, this can feel quite intense, but will really help to stretch out the whole sciatic region as well as increase flexibility in the area.
- Simple seated twists. Performing something gentle, like a basic twist which targets the piriformis could be all you need to give you some relief.
Simple Seated Twist
Hopefully, by performing some of the above techniques (all of which I have used and have helped me personally), you too can find some relief from sciatica. By regularly stretching these muscles, you can avoid the general tightness and relieve the sciatic nerve. If you work in a job where you are mostly sitting and tend to suffer from this, I highly recommend at least 2 of the above mentioned techniques at least twice a week or attending a Yin Yoga class regularly.