8 Effective Yoga Stretches for Sciatica

If you have sciatica, then you know that it's a real pain in the butt, both literally and figuratively. In fact, the affected areas can include your buttocks, legs, and back and your symptoms may consist of weakness, numbness, tingling, and burning, as well as moderate to extreme pain. This is because the source of the discomfort is irritation of the longest nerves in your body, the sciatic nerves, which run bilaterally from the base of the spine, through the buttocks and down the back of each leg. Your symptoms may be present on only one side of the back or leg since there is a nerve on each side of the body.

Severe sciatica can adversely affect your quality of life, making it uncomfortable to walk or sit. Since the pain is caused by a nerve, yoga poses can provide relief by stretching the surrounding muscles. However, yoga may not be an appropriate treatment for every cause of sciatica, so be sure to seek a diagnosis from a doctor before proceeding.

There are many scenarios that can cause sciatic pain, two of the most common being piriformis syndrome and herniated discs. If your sciatic nerve is being aggravated by a tight piriformis, yoga is a great remedy. There are also several yoga positions that are used by physical therapists to relieve the pain of sciatica caused by herniated discs. Hamstring stretches are also recommended in some cases. You'll find examples of each of these three types of poses below. If you find relief from particular stretches, be sure to do them regularly to help prevent a recurrence of your sciatica. 

1
Pigeon in a Chair

Pigeon Pose in a Chair
Pigeon Pose in a Chair. Ann Pizer

Our first few poses are going to be piriformis stretches. The following three poses are all variations of pigeon, starting here with an option for people who are unable to comfortably lie on their backs. (Conversely, if you find sitting painful, look at the supine version, below.) Try to find a chair in which you can sit comfortably with both feet flat on the floor and your thighs roughly parallel to the floor. Place your right ankle near your left knee and try to relax your right knee toward the floor. Repeat on the left side.

2
Eye of the Needle Pose - Sucirandhrasana

Eye of the Needle Pose - Sucirandhrasana
Eye of the Needle Pose - Sucirandhrasana. Ann Pizer

If you can lie on the floor, try eye of the needle pose. You can also do this lying on a bed. Start by bending your right knee and placing the sole of your right foot flat on the floor. Then bend your left knee and cross your left ankle to rest on your right thigh. If this is enough of a stretch, stay here with the right foot on the floor. If you can go further, lift the right leg and pull it toward your body, holding either the back of your thigh or your shin. As the right leg comes toward your body, try to relax your left knee away from you. Release and repeat on the other side.

3
Pigeon Pose - Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (Prep)

Pigeon Yoga Pose
Pigeon. Ian Hootan/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

If you have good mobility, you can move on to this version of pigeon pose. Place a folded blanket under your butt on the side of your forward leg for support. Set yourself up with your left knee outside your right wrist and your left shin as close to parallel to the front of your mat as possible. (Don't worry if it's nowhere close to parallel.) Try not to let your butt slide off to the left. Come into a forward bend over your left leg if that feels good. Repeat with your right leg forward.

4
Cow in a Chair

Cow Yoga Pose in a Chair
Cow Pose in a Chair. Ann Pizer

If your doctor recommends spinal extension (back bending) to treat a herniated disc, here are some options. As above, we'll start with the version of the posture that is best for people who can't come to the floor. For cow in a chair, sit with both feet flat on the floor and your hands on your knees. Inhale and draw your chest forward, arching your back. Exhale and release. Repeat several times.

5
Cobra - Bhujangasana

Cobra Pose - Bhujangasana
Cobra Pose - Bhujangasana. Ann Pizer

If you can lie on your stomach on the floor, you can try a gentle cobra pose. With your palms on the floor under your shoulders and your elbows bent straight back, anchor your pelvis to the floor, push into your palms, and lift your chest off the floor any amount. 

6
Sphinx Pose

Sphinx Yoga Pose
Sphinx Pose. Ann Pizer

If cobra feels ok, you can try sphinx pose. In this version, place your elbows directly under your shoulders. Press into your forearms to draw your chest through your upper arms and keep your shoulders relaxed away from your ears. 

7
Staff Pose - Dandasana

Staff Pose - Dandasana
Staff Pose - Dandasana. Ann Pizer

Hamstring stretches can also help with sciatic nerve pain, but in many cases, you want to avoid forward bends since they can aggravate a herniated disc. Sitting in staff pose is a good place to start. Placing a folded blanket or two under your butt may allow you to sit up with a straighter spine. Flex your feet strongly.

8
Reclined Big Toe Pose - Supta Padangusthasana

Reclined Big Toe Pose - Supta Padangustasana
Reclined Big Toe Pose - Supta Padangustasana. Ann Pizer

This reclined big toe pose with a strap is another great hamstring stretch. If you don't have a strap, try a version of this pose lying down in a doorway. Bring your raised leg up the side of the doorway and let the leg on the floor come through the open door. 

Always See Your Doctor and Listen to Your Body

Remember, it's crucial that you see your health care provider for a diagnosis and recommendation of appropriate treatments before trying these exercises. If you feel pain in any of these poses, come out.

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