The other night at the cinema, riveted by a documentary called “Once My Mother”, I felt a sudden stab of pain in the back of my left leg. I felt like jumping up and running out of the theatre, the pain was so acute. I thought, oh no, sciatica!
My innate good manners had me sit relatively still, all the while praying that the agonising discomfort would go away as suddenly as it had arrived. I tried to do a surreptitious yoga stretch, the one called ‘through-the-hole pose’. It can be a useful tactic when discomfort I was experiencing is caused by the piriformis muscle trapping the sciatic nerve. It gave me the relief I needed.
As well as experiencing physical pain, I felt miffed that I was being revisited by a condition that I suffered from in the late 70’s. I thought I was permanently cured, but, no, my ‘old friend’ had come back. Forty plus years of yoga practice hadn’t managed to dispel the risk of sciatica.
Long ago, when I first had sciatica, I didn’t get advice and treatment in a timely fashion. To the contrary, I kept aggravating the sciatica by doing yoga poses that weren’t appropriate. This time round, I’ve dealt with the problem quickly, and I want to share what I’ve learned.
What is sciatica?
First of all, what sort of condition is sciatica? According to the Cleveland Clinic website, sciatica is a symptom that presents as leg pain. It might simply feel like a bad leg cramp or it can be excruciating, shooting pain that makes standing or sitting nearly impossible. It can occur suddenly or it can develop gradually. Other symptoms of sciatica are weakness, numbness, or a burning, pins-and-needles sensation down the buttock and leg, and even in the toes.
Why does it happen?
There are several culprits, but two of the main ones are due to: 1) suffering a herniated disc, and, 2) pressure from the piriformis muscle on the sciatic nerve. Unskilled lifting of heavy objects is one activity that can cause a disc to rupture and create nerve pain. On the other hand, so can being sedentary. Extended periods of sitting at your desk, watching television, or driving long distances will all take their toll. I learned the hard way that back weakness and stiffness will make you vulnerable when you attempt to do more advanced yoga poses.
Lessons learned about yoga and sciatica
- Instead of self diagnosing, consult with your alternative therapies or medical practitioner.
- Find a suitable yoga sequence for recovery. When I worked out that my problem was sciatic nerve irritation, I consulted The Path of Holistic Health by B.K.S. Iyengar. Over several days, I followed the program for sciatica (below).
- Avoid forward bends or any pose where shooting pain occurs.
- Strengthen the muscles around the sciatic nerve.
- Bend the knees in standing forward bends and downward facing dog pose.
- Move in and out of poses, rather than holding them, to improve circulation around muscles, joints and bones. More circulation = more healing.
Here’s a bonus pose that was helpful for me, but it’s possible that it may not suit your body. Always, always, read your own body. Steer clear of any pose where acute pain arises.
Take a face-down position. Inhale and raise your head, chest and legs. Exhale. Inhale and spread your legs (pictured). Exhale, and bring your legs together. Repeat five times and then release.