I’ve worked for decades in fitness and about 15 years in yoga. Over the years, back pain is something that has come up regularly with clients. People come to classes seeking effective ways to reduce and eliminate pain so they can live the active lives they desire – playing tennis, hanging with the grandkids, hiking vacations, walking the dogs, painting the walls, working in the garden. Sometimes they just want to be able to sit for long periods of time at the computer or knitting without experiencing pain.
People experience back pain for various reasons: either they have been too sedentary, their job or a sport has caused repetitive stress in a specific body area, they have an old injury, they were in a car accident, there is a congenital condition in their spine, or they are dealing with arthritis or other conditions that develop as we age.
One of the nastiest versions of back pain comes from sciatica. In some people, sciatica causes excruciating pain. The good news is, sciatica doesn’t last forever. The bad news is sometimes it lasts for weeks or months.
What is sciatica?
Sciatica refers to pain that comes from irritation of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is a long nerve that runs from the lower back, through the buttocks, down the legs, and ends just below the knee. The pain of sciatica can be experienced at any point along the nerve and it usually occurs in one leg.
Symptoms include pain, numbness, weakness, tingling, or shooting pains, plus that excruciating pain I mentioned above.
Sciatica is often a symptom of an underlying problem and may be caused by any of the following:
- Herniated disk or bulging disk – the disk presses on the sciatic nerve.
- Spinal stenosis – narrowing of the spinal canal – often caused by degenerative changes as we age.
- Piriformis syndrome – a small muscle deep in the buttock that connects the lower spine to the thigh bone. When it gets tight or spasms it can press on the sciatic nerve.
- Spondylolisthesis – a disc slips forward and pinches the sciatic nerve.
- Tumors in the spine.
- An injury to the spine.
- Pregnancy and giving birth may result in the sciatic nerve getting irritated.
Although it might not be possible to prevent or cure sciatica, you can take steps to protect your back, relieve your pain, and reduce your risk.
These actions will help:
- Proper lifting techniques.
- Improving posture to relieve pressure on your back.
- Regular exercise, stretching, and gentle yoga to keep your back and core strong, flexible, and mobile so your spine is supported.
When you are in pain it can be tempting to spend time resting. However, studies have shown that rest doesn’t really help with sciatica. Its important to stay active and not become additionally debilitated from inactivity. At the same time, its important to remember that exercise should be appropriate for your condition and you should avoid overdoing it.
This gentle yoga practice stretches and relaxes some of the muscles in the lower back, hamstrings, and buttocks, including the piriformis muscle. When done regularly, it can bring relief and will help keep the lower back healthy.
This practice focuses on 6 poses that can help with back pain when done regularly. Modifications are demonstrated to make the poses accessible to beginners, those with knee issues, and people who need to be careful how far they flex their spines.
1) Spinal twist (Supta Matsyendrasana)
2) Happy Baby (Ananda Balasana)
3) Hamstring Stretch (Supta Padangustha)
4) Figure 4 Stretch (Supta Eka Pada Utkatasana)
5) Quadricep Stretch (Ardha Bekkasana)
6) Lunge (Anjaneyasana)
If you have sciatica its important to get it diagnosed to asses the cause in case it is from a serious medical condition that should be addressed. Additionally, if you feel discomfort or pain while doing any of these exercises stop immediately and seek medical help – especially if you have a history of herniated disks as you will aggravate or even sequester a disk. Always honor your limits and only do exercises that are appropriate for your body.
Have you been dealing with sciatica? Are there activities that aggravate your condition? What gives you relief?
About the author:
Jennifer Houghton is a certified yoga and fitness instructor and creator of online yoga programs at www.bountifulyogaandwellness.com. She is a strong believer that yoga should be painless, achievable, and accessible to everyone.