“I’ve tried everything but nothing seems to work.” – What we hear from people who call the studio and come to class for the first time, as well as all over the Internet…
Here’s the gut-wrenching truth:
You haven’t tried it all. You only say that to make yourself feel better.
You blame it on the job, on the commute, on your age, on the doctors, on the medication, and so much more. Yet you haven’t actually done anything yourself.
It takes time to solve a problem, especially when it relates to your body, no matter if you’re a world-class athlete, a 7 year-old who took a tumble biking, or a 34 year-old mother at a full-time desk job.
Solving your case is going to be different from solving Uncle Joe’s or Auntie Rosie’s case.
Not because you are special, but because we all are special.
So you should be treating your body as best as you can. That includes understanding what you’re dealing with. If you’ve already gotten a diagnosis that you have sciatica—great. You can start to work on it, but before you do, here’s what you should know:
In 1934, Dr. William Mixter and Dr. Joseph Barr established that the principal source of sciatica is “compression of a lumbar nerve root by disk material that has ruptured through its surrounding annulus.”
Basically what that means is that the collagen (jelly) in between your intervertebral discs (let’s call them spine bones for short) is being squeezed out and the nerve inside is the monkey in the middle, entrapped and crying for help.
The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body.
So there is a reason why you feel so much more pain in that region than in any other region of your body, regardless if you have other injuries. We’ve had knee injuries, wrist injuries, ankle injuries, etc. They all heal. But an injury causing damage to your largest nerve? That needs to be dealt with pronto. If you don’t take care of it with the correct exercises while you still feel the pain, you probably will have no options left in a few months.
Good thing a lot of you have heard of this thing called “Google” and have been using it more frequently to heal.
Wow! 100% at the beginning of the year. Good job guys. And here are the related searches:
It’s always amazing when people decide to learn something themselves, BUT all of these people have different characteristics, including:
- Stress level
Each characteristic impacts the way in which you would treat sciatica pain. Each person has a different level of pain, a different intensity, different movements that make it better or worse, and different times of day that it affects them most.
This is the process of what the majority of people with sciatica go through when trying to relieve their pain:
- Ignore the problem until it incapicates you both physically and mentally.
- Ask your friends or relatives about possible solutions (if they have not already yelled at you for trying to seek help)
- Go to a doctor, a chiropractor, a personal trainer, a nutritionist, a homeopathy specialist, etc.
- Scour the internet for home relief because nothing else is working.
- Accept defeat because apparently there is no other option.
BUT ALAS! There IS another option.
Firstly, don’t believe everything you read. What could be a solution for one person could create an even bigger problem for another person. When a friend or family member gives you a suggestion, think about whether or not it would apply to you, do some research, and then try it out if it makes sense. If you read a professional website explaining to you how to cure your problems, think about it again. Does it apply to you? Whether you’re looking into doing surgery, taking medication, trying physiotherapy, or anything else, you should always do your research.
But let’s talk about yoga as a relief for sciatica, because indeed it can give you relief and eventually heal the pain…if you do it right.
Many experts who prescribe yoga as a method to cure certain bodily issues have never had those issues themselves. They have the certifications and the years of experience but the type of experience they have probably doesn’t apply to your case.
One such case was when The Globe and Mail published a video on how to cure sciatica through the Marichyasana pose. While the yoga instructor had the right intent, she probably didn’t have the experience of sciatica herself in understanding just how painful going into that pose would be.
As mentioned earlier, the sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body. Think about what would happen if you were to twist it?
Instead of twisting the part of your body that is in the most amount of pain, the correct approach would be to lengthen it. Twisting your nerve to either side would only push you further away from your goals. You’re supposed to be getting that part of your body back to normal, not giving it more stress.
Yoga is often deemed as an activity to release stress, get rid of anxiety, unite yourself with nature, feel free, etc. but if your doctor has prescribed yoga practice to you then the type of yoga classes you need to look for should focus on healing injuries. And don’t assume that if you hear “restorative yoga” it automatically means the class will restore your body to the way it used to be. It’s simply a type of yoga that has you in various poses for an extended period of time, but you’ve been sitting all day, what is it going to do for you to keep being still?
Secondly, if something hurts when you do it, don’t keep doing it. This doesn’t mean never doing push ups or sit ups because they’re hard. This means that if you are doing a physical activity or yoga pose or a certain stretch and it is causing you searing, localized pain, then %$#?ing stop with the antics. What you’re doing is only making your condition worse.
Thirdly, ask, ask, ask. Make sure the solutions you’re applying to yourself make sense. Do this by making sure the internet source, or specialist, or physical therapist, etc. has had the experience of going through this injury and not just the certification. There are a lot of specialists who do indeed know what to do without having had injuries themselves, but they either know friends or family who have had these injuries or understand the mechanics of anatomy extremely well. The more experience your source has, the more likely you are to find the right solution.
Yoga Journal, a respected yoga source since the 1970s provides whole sections of poses dedicated to certain issues. There’s one such section dedicated exclusively for poses aimed to relieve sciatica:
And here are some more poses:
You’ve probably tried a few of these poses listed above and depending on the severity of your sciatica, trying these poses made you never want to practice yoga again. That’s completely understandable. Let’s look at how each of these poses affect your sciatica:
Didn’t we already mention the fault in twisting? Next.
Many yoga instructors believe that people have sciatica as a result of tight hips so they suggest opening up your knees. If you have nerve pinching in your lower back even thinking of opening your knees will give you pain and sweating. Your body wants to naturally round and bring your knees inwards. This way you get a bit of relief from the pain. Why would you do something that will give you more pain?
This is not even funny. This pose has to be prohibited to people that have sciatica. This is an extreme lumbar region back bend, meaning that most of the bending is happening in your lower back region right where your sciatica is. Just pinch that nerve even more, I dare you. No, just kidding. Please don’t.
Ardha Pincha Mayurasana
Let me just tell you one thing about this pose in terms of sciatica. If you have it you will never be able to perform this pose, simply because if your hamstrings are tight you will do a beck bend in the lumbar region which is as we already learned creates more harm than good for sciatica. Even after getting rid of your sciatica, you’ll have tight hamstrings for a while because of the way your body protects itself during some kind of injury.
Adho Mukha Svanasana
Downward facing dog isn’t exactly bad for you but it’s not good to do if you try performing it with straight legs. You won’t be able to either way with sciatica. Make sure to bend your knees and have a shorter distance from your hands to your feet. Instead of creating a natural curve at the lumbar region of the spine, it is better to gently round it and try to keep evenly rounding throughout the whole spine column.
This pose is not too bad, but when you twist one leg over the other, one hip lifts up, tilting the facets sidewise which will certainly add to the nerve pinching.
This pose is very similar to the Baddha Konasana, but not with such severity. Again, with sciatica the body tries to bring the knees together and round the back while this pose pushes the body to do the opposite bringing more discomfort and pain.
This is an asymmetrical pose which means tilting on one side and lengthening the other side. As with any one-sided poses it will help if done on one side only and it has to be modified meaning no straightening your knees and no straight spine; the spine has to be slightly rounded.
This pose is one level up by severity for people with sciatica. This pose is very similar to the previous one but with both knees straightened up. If done on the wrong side it will worsen the condition, if done on the correct side will help to ease it up.
We talked about this pose earlier in the article and could be as evil as Bhujangasana for one side and if performed properly (but only on one side and partially), could be absolute treasure for releasing the pinched nerve. The emphasis is on pulling the knee towards the chest, leaving the lifted foot up in the air outside of the opposite thigh.
This is very similar to any one-sided poses. Doing this pose on one side helps to release the pinched nerve and tilting to the injured side will worsen the practitioners’ condition. Again, the pose has to be modified in a very specific way making sure that neither knee is straightened and that the spine is slightly rounded.
You now know which pose is more or less harmful to do with a sciatica problem, but let’s measure to what degree with 10 being the most harmful and 1 being the least harmful:
Symmetrical Yoga poses:
10 – Bhujangasana
10 – Dhanurasana
10 – Ustrasana
10 – Matsyasana
10 – Salabhasana
10 – Supta Virasana
10 – Urdhva Mukha Shvanasana
10 – Urdhva Dhanurasana
8 – Ardha Pincha Mayurasana
7 – Bitilasana
4 – Adho Mukha Svanasana
4 – Dandasana
5 – Padangusthasana
3 – Baddha Konasana
2 – Sukhasana
Asymmetrical Yoga poses making back injury worse (please, note that some of these poses are truly beneficial for sciatica when performed on the proper side with certain modifications)
7 – Utthita Hasta Padangustasana
10 – Marichyasana
10 – Ardha Matsyendrasana
6 – Ardha Chandrasana
6 – Utthita Parsvakonasana
7 – Utthita Trikonasana
Now that you know what to avoid, you can get a sense of why you’ve had problems solving your sciatica in the past. Make sure to check everything yourself before to decide to start following a full-blown routine that may damage your lower back permanently.
And of course, you are always free to ask us more about other specific problems you may have.