Can yoga help sciatica?By Faye Martins

Many potential students want to know: “Can yoga help sciatica?” They inquire because they are dealing with daily pain and they hope Yoga poses won’t cause pain. If you teach, you need to have this conversation before class starts. The same is true for the student who wants to avoid a trial and error process.  Sciatica is a painful condition in which the sciatic nerve is impinged, or compressed. Sciatic nerve pain can range from mildly irritating to completely debilitating. For those seeking holistic treatment options, yoga offers a means of pain management that also delivers numerous other health benefits to the body.


Causes of Sciatica

Sciatica can occur as a result of a number of factors, such as a herniated or bulging disc, spondylolisthesis, or piriformis syndrome. It is exacerbated by a sedentary lifestyle and extended periods of sitting. Physical activity and stretches that target the core, glutes and hamstrings are highly recommended for reducing nerve impingement and dealing with sciatic pain. Rather than guessing, students should visit a doctor to understand the source of the problem. Understanding the exact cause enables the student to know what to avoid, how to cope with the pain, and to find solutions that fit one’s lifestyle. Can yoga help sciatica? While there are many good stories, the outcome depends on the cause, steady practice, and knowledge shared between doctor and patient.


How Yoga Can Help?

Yoga is all about elongating and strengthening the muscles through specific poses, stretches, movements and breathing patterns. It increases both flexibility and range of motion while engaging the core muscles of the abdominals and back. Yoga enhances circulation, which serves to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the whole body.

The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the entire body, running from the lower back all the way down to the feet. When it is compressed, pain can radiate throughout the lumbar spine and run along the back of one or both thighs. Yoga stretches that emphasize muscles in these regions are especially helpful for relieving sciatic nerve pressure.



Yoga poses that stretch and strengthen the hamstrings and glutes are extremely effective for dealing with sciatica. The piriformis is a small muscle buried deep inside the glutes. Therefore, keeping the glutes loose will the relieve pressure on this muscle that may be responsible for sciatica. Here is a great piriformis stretch.

Lie on the floor in a supine, or face up, position. Bend both knees at a 45-degree angle, and then cross the right ankle over the left knee. Reaching under the left thigh, use both hands to lift the thigh toward the chest. This stretch should be held for 15 to 30 seconds and then performed on the opposite side.



Proper breathing techniques allow the body to relax, which reduces tension as well as inflammation. Stress, tension and muscular tightness make sciatica pain worse. In yoga, awareness of breath is key to successful movements and stretches.

Benefits of Yoga

• Elongates and loosens tight muscles

• Increases flexibility and range of motion

• Facilitates nutrient delivery to the muscles

• Relaxes and body and mind

• Relieves nerve pressure

• Stimulates the lymphatic system to detoxify the body


Side Notes for Teachers

Once again, never promise cures! Some students will manage to find instant relief, but others may not. Some doctors will not be in favor of yoga, but many will be fine with their patients taking up a healthy hobby. If a student feels better for hours or days after practice, this is a good thing. Some students will practice every day. Others might not practice until they experience pain. As teachers, we encourage regular gentle practice without force or pushing. Listening to one’s body is extremely important. If anything causes pain, it should be stopped right away. Plans do not always move in a linear fashion. Some students will have set backs and some may quit. There are people who prefer to take prescription pain killers, rather than practice yoga. Our mission is to help those who seek help. Unfortunately, we cannot convince everyone about the benefits of practice. For those who have success, they will tell their friends and families about the benefits of yoga practice. Some of them may become the next generation of yoga teachers. Let the process unfold without putting any pressure on it and you will see students enjoy their lives with less pain.


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