Three summers ago, while at the beach, I watched my Dad experience intense pain that was isolated to one side of his body and radiated down his leg. He was absolutely miserable! I do remember he was fine one day and then it seemed two days later, he was in complete agony. Whatever it was, it came on suddenly, but the intensity eventually dissolved (just not fast enough according to Dad). Looking back, I remember we had gone to a BBQ a day or two prior and Dad had helped move some tables. I’ve often wondered if that contributed or aggravated injuries (maybe he lifted improperly) which lead to his painful situation.
Today, I have a coworker who seems to suffer from similar symptoms. My coworker says sitting really bothers him so you’ll often see him work on the computer while standing. He will shake his legs out, walk around, or do deep knee bends and he says that helps. Unlike my Dad, his pain seems to be more mild but chronic.
Every now and then, I noticed that I too have mild pain that seems to be isolated on one side of my body as well. My pain seemed to be mainly in my right hip and I’ve noticed I tend to suffer for a few days after a very long car ride. (This past year, I’d driven back and forth a few times from Colorado to Texas and/or Oklahoma). The good thing for me is that my pain hasn’t lasted any significant amount of time.
What we likely have in common, is a painful condition called “Sciatica” or what I like to call “Pain in the Butt and/or Leg!” (OK, I really use the other name for butt).
Symptoms: Overall, there is discomfort anywhere along the Sciatic Nerve’s Pathway. (See Picture)
- Pain on one side of body that tends to be in the butt or rear part of the leg. Worsened when sitting. (My coworker)
- Burning/Tingling/Shooting Pain that radiates from the low back and/or down the rear of the leg as low as the calf or even toes (My Dad)
- Weakness, Numbness on one side of the Butt (Me)
- Constant Pain on one side of the butt
What Causes Sciatica?
Essentially, part of the Sciatic nerve is compressed. Compression may be from a herniated disk, bone spur, Lumber Spinal Stenonsis (narrowing spinal canal in lower back), Degenerative Disc Disease, and even pregnancy. The compression causes inflammation, pain, and numbness along the affected nerve’s pathway. Additionally, being overweight, not exercising regularly, wearing high heels, or even sleeping on a too soft mattress may aggravate existing pain.
A lot of times, sciatica pain will go away with a little time and self care measures. (However, if pain doesn’t go away after a week, it is recommended that a person seeks medical care). Some self care measures that may be helpful include:
- Applying a cold pack on the painful area for up to 20 minutes several times a day
- Apply heat (can even alternate between hot and cold)
- OTC Anti-inflammatory Medicine: Motrin, Advil, Aleve…
- Do “Core Strengthening” Exercises
- Watching your Posture!
- Do Yoga!
NOTICE I MENTIONED YOGA! Moving in and out of yoga poses will increase circulation to the sciatic area so with that being said choose a Vinyasa or Flow type of yoga practice over those that have longer static holds. With regards to Vinyasa/Flow, think Sun Salutations! However, as you might have guessed, there are some yoga poses that will definitely aggravate sciatic pain and there are poses that will certainly help make the area feel better. I listed the poses into these two categories: Bad Poses will aggravate and Good Poses will feel good/help with pain.
BAD POSE (3) GOOD POSE (15)
— (Bad) Standing Straight Leg Forward Fold
— (Good) Bent Leg Standing Forward Fold or Downward Facing Dog
— (Bad) Seated Forward Fold with Straight Legs
— (Good) Head-to-Knee Seated Forward Fold (Janu Sirvasana or looks like a 4). Or if doing a seated forward fold, try elevating the hips on a blanket or folded mat and keep the knees bent
— (Good) Bharadvaja Twist (Start in Hero but slide legs out from under the hips keeping them be bent and on one side then twist the torso towards the knees/opposite feet
— (Good) Noose Pose (Bound Twisted Garland Pose)
— (Good) Pigeon (any variation)
— (Good) Locust and Half Locust: Try keeping palms on the mat and lifting upper body while alternating one leg. As you inhale lift and as you exhale lower. Move with your breath a few times and then maybe try full locust. Listen to your body. Move into the pose slowly and if there is pain, back off.
— (Good) Modified Cow Face: Elevate your hips on either a blanket or folded up mat. Extend one leg out while bending the other leg and taking the foot across the extended leg towards and just past the hip crease outside of the leg. You may even want to slightly bend the elevated leg a little. After you are all established, try a flowing forward fold moving with your breath. Do this a few times before holding the fold for a few breaths. Then switch out the legs and pursue the other side.
— (Good) Cobra
— (Good) Bow
— (Good) Bridge (Especially flowing bridge) – slight modification here with the feet pigeon toed may feel better
— (Good) Reclining Big Toe Pose (Use a strap to stretch hamstring)
— (Bad) Forced Twists (any)
— (Good) Marichyasana III
— (Good) Half Lord of the Fishes
— (Good) Crescent Lunge; can be modified
— (Good) Twisted Chair
There are a couple of things to keep in mind as you pursue various yoga poses. First, if it causes pain, don’t do it. Second, gentle backbends are great but care must be taken as you go into these poses. Slowly inhale and lengthen through the spine and lift the chest before leaning back into the backbend. Maybe don’t do as deep of a backbend as you know you can. Third, gentle twisting yoga poses are wonderful in that they help create space in the lower back as well as increase circulation into the painful area. Like backbends, care must be taken in that you actually use your muscles to twist. What I mean by this is that you should inhale and lengthen then exhale and twist using your torso muscles and not pushing with arms and hands. (If your sciatica is caused by herniated disks, you may not want to pursue twists).
Sciatica sucks! Hopefully, you’ll find the information I’ve presented helpful and restorative. I’ve tried to keep it simple with the yoga poses so if you are taking a class and say a “Forward Fold” is cued, you’ll know to pursue a bent leg version or Downward Facing Dog instead. Overall, listen to your body. It knows what it needs.