Many people around the world suffer from lower back pain, but when that pain starts to shoot down one of your legs and feel like an unbearable cramp, it may be sciatica. While most cases of sciatica don’t have to be drastically treated with invasive surgery, there are cases where it can be quite severe. A regular yoga practice, such as a gentle flow, Hatha, restorative or yin class, is a great way to ease symptoms of sciatica and help treat it. And there are some yoga poses that are particularly helpful in relieving sciatic pain.
What Is Sciatica?
Sciatica is the name given to pain in the back and/or leg caused by a problem with the sciatic nerve. The large nerve runs from the lower back down the back of each leg. Sciatica can occur from an injury or pressure being put on the sciatic nerve, and the pain can spread from the lower back to the hip, glute and leg. While it may need surgery in some cases, up to 90% of people recover without the need for an operation.
Symptoms Of Sciatica
The most common symptom is pain that can extend from the lower back through the hip, glute and leg of one side of the body. It may feel like a particularly bad leg cramp, and can become an excruciating shooting pain that makes either standing or sitting almost intolerable. Other symptoms include numbness, weakness or tingling in the leg. Sciatica symptoms can appear suddenly or develop gradually, and last for days or weeks. Pain can become worse when you sit, cough or sneeze.
Causes Of Sciatica
There are a few different conditions that may cause sciatica, including a ‘pinched nerve’. This may affect one or more of your lower spinal nerves, inside or outside of the spinal canal as it passes into the leg. One of the most common causes of sciatica is a herniated or slipped disc, which can cause pressure on the nerves that run down the spinal column. This can occur from injury or weakness, causing the inner portion of the disc to protrude through the outer ring.
Piriformis syndrome is another common cause of sciatica. It develops when the piriformis muscle tightens or spasms, putting pressure on the sciatic nerve. The piriformis muscle is a small muscle found deep inside the buttocks. It connects the lower spine to the upper thighbone and runs over the sciatic nerve. This is a more common cause of sciatica in women. Spinal stenosis is a condition resulting from a narrowing of the spinal canal putting pressure on the nerves, which can also lead to symptoms of sciatica. And spondylolisthesis, caused by one vertebra slipping out of line with the one above it, is another potential cause. The slippage leads to a narrowing of the opening where the nerve exits.
Sciatica Or Some Other Back Pain?
Back pain is extremely common around the world, with up to 85% of Americans experiencing some form or another in their lifetime. However, back pain is not always necessarily to do with the sciatic nerve. Often it is the result of straining muscles in the lower back. The main sign that your lower back pain might be sciatica is if it shoots down the leg and possibly even into the foot. It can feel like a particularly bad leg cramp that can last for days.
How To Treat Sciatica
Most sciatica can be treated without invasive surgery, with the aim of treatment being to decrease pain and increase mobility. That can include physical therapy and pain and inflammation medication. In more severe cases, doctors may suggest an injection of anti-inflammatory medicine, which resembles cortisone, into the lower back to reduce swelling of the nerve roots. If none of those methods are successful, surgery may be needed if symptoms are progressing and the patient is in severe pain. Surgical options can include microdiscectomy, which removes fragments of a herniated disc. Or laminectomy, which involves removing the tissue that is causing pressure on the sciatic nerve and the bone that curves around and covers the spinal cord (lamina). Alternative methods of treatment, including yoga and acupuncture, have also proven to be beneficial in relieving sciatic pain.
Yoga For Sciatica
Yoga can be particularly beneficial to sciatica if the source of the pain is the piriformis muscle. Signs can include:
- Pain and tingling down the outside of your calf muscle to the space between your little and fourth toe.
- Discomfort on your heels and toes when walking.
- A burning sensation in the back of the thigh and calf down to the heel, and stiffness in the legs.
- Pain and discomfort from sitting.
- Pain in the buttocks after exercising or sitting for a long period.
Yoga Poses To Relieve Sciatica
These yoga poses can help stretch and relieve sore muscles and cramping caused by sciatica…
Seated Spinal Twist
Twisting the spine is a great way to relieve stiffness and stretch the back and spine. Start in staff pose, sitting up straight with your legs crossed. Inhale and raise your arms above your head, lengthening your spine. As you exhale, twist from the core to the left, placing your right hand on your left knee and left hand behind you. Inhale and lengthen the spine a bit more, then exhale and twist a little deeper. Stay there for two breaths and then move back to neutral. Repeat on the other side, but spend more time on the side that is showing symptoms of sciatica. If you find sitting cross-legged to be uncomfortable, you can straighten your legs and cross one over the other, twisting in the opposite direction.
This stretches and relieves the lower back and buttock on one side of the body at a time. Start by lying on your back, trying to relax your spine as close to the mat as possible. Lengthen the back of your neck and relax your shoulders. On an inhale, draw one knee to your chest, keeping the other leg straight. Take hold of the bent leg around the shin and pull your leg closer towards your chest, resisting with your knee at the same time. Make sure your shoulders remain on your mat.
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