If you’re among the millions of Americans with sciatica-related symptoms, take comfort in knowing there are many non-surgical ways to manage this type of discomfort, one of which is controlled exercise in the form of yoga. This centuries-old discipline can effectively strengthen the core muscles, hamstrings, glutes, and lower back muscles that directly or indirectly support your spine—sometimes enough to effectively relieve sciatic nerve pain. Keep reading to learn about four poses generally considered safe and effective for most people with sciatica.
If you’re experiencing severe or long-lasting back pain that hasn’t been diagnosed by a physician, see a Los Angeles spine surgeon before trying these poses.
1. Knees-to-Chest Pose (Apanasana)
This pose stretches the lower back and pelvic muscles and a muscle deep within the buttocks called the piriformis muscle, which can sometimes produce symptoms similar to sciatica if it’s irritated. Do this pose by following these steps:
• Lie on a comfortable flat surface with your legs straight and feet flexed
• Bring your knees and thighs toward your chest as you exhale
• Keep your back against the ground as you hug your knees and hold the pose for a few minutes
• Exhale and place your legs back in the starting position
2. Bird Dog Pose (Parsva Balasana)
In addition to targeting your lower (lumbar) spine, this pose also works all of your core muscle groups. Start by getting on the floor on all fours (hands/knees). With your spine straight, continue the pose:
• Place your palms on your yoga mat or the floor and your knees under your hips
• Extend your left leg behind you and your right arm in front of you (at the same time)
• Breathe deeply and hold the pose briefly
• Repeat with the right leg and left arm
3. Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)
This back-bending pose also works the core and lower back muscles, and it increases flexibility in the areas commonly affected by sciatica. It may also ease back stiffness. Lie flat on your stomach with your legs straight back to get started with this pose. You’ll then complete the cobra pose:
• Prop yourself up with your palms on the ground next to your ribcage
• Bring your elbows near your sides
• Lift your chest while taking a deep breath and pushing up with your arms
• Keep your lower body and hips on the ground as you arch your back
• Hold the pose briefly before lowering your chest back to the ground—repeat as many times as comfortable
Note: A less challenging variation of this pose can be done with your forearms on the ground/yoga mat instead of your palms.
4. Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose (Supra Padangusthasana)
Tight hamstring muscles can place added tension on adjacent lower back muscles. In turn, this can create more pressure on your sciatic nerve. The purpose of this pose is to strengthen and gently stretch hamstrings. A yoga strap is needed to correctly perform this pose. If you don’t have one, a rolled-up towel will suffice. This pose is performed by following these steps:
• Lie on your back with your legs straight, your knees touching, and your feet flexing
• Exhale, bend your right knee, and bring your right thigh toward your chest
• Put the yoga strap or rolled-up towel around the ball of your right foot—if you use a strap, hold the ends of it
• Inhale and push your right heel upward
• Leave your buttocks, shoulders, and left leg on the ground and briefly hold the pose while doing deep yoga breaths
• Exhale as you bend your right knee
• Let your right thigh ease down to your chest
• Return your right leg to its original position, then repeat the pose with the left leg
Before you start any type of exercise routine, check with your doctor first. Seeing your doctor before you try these poses will reduce your risk of unintentionally making things worse and allow you to receive an accurate diagnosis to confirm that compression of your sciatic nerve is really the source of your pain. If it is, the strict attention to form required for most yoga poses could further ease your discomfort by improving your posture.
If sciatica is causing your back pain, treatments can vary widely, from applying ice and heat to physical therapy to back fusion alternatives. Los Angeles patients should see their spine specialist for an accurate diagnosis and a personalized treatment plan. The spinal health experts at The Spine Institute have years of experience with all aspects of back health. Call one of our friendly representatives today at 310-828-7757 to schedule a consultation.