Sciatica is tenderness and pain anywhere along the sciatic nerve, typically showing up on one side of the body. There are two sciatic nerves – one for each leg. These are the longest nerves in the human body. The sciatic nerve passes between layers of the deep buttock muscles (gluteus medius and gluteus maximus), through the deep muscles of the back of the thigh, and down through the outer edge of your leg to your foot.
How yoga can help
Do the following stretches faithfully and see the amazing effects:
The Basic Piriformis Stretch: Ardha Matsyen drasana
Sit with your knees bent and your feet on the floor in front of you. Take your right foot under your left knee and around to the outside of your left hip. Your right knee should point straight forward. For the mildest hip stretch, place your left foot on the floor to the inside of your right knee, so that the left foot is roughly in line with your left hip; for a stronger stretch, place your left foot to the outside of your right knee. Steady yourself by holding your left knee with your hands, and from this balanced foundation, inhale and lengthen upward through your spine.Stay in the pose for 20 seconds to a couple of minutes, then repeat on the other side. Do two to four sets at a time.
The standing twist is a milder standing version of the stretch in ardha matsyendrasana. Place a chair against the wall. To stretch your right hip, stand with your right side next to the wall. Place your right foot on the chair, with your knee bent to roughly 90 degrees. Keep your standing leg straight, and steady your balance by placing your right hand on the wall. Lift your left heel up high, coming onto the mounds of the toes, and turn your body toward the wall, using your hands for balance. As you exhale, lower your left heel to the floor, maintaining the twist. Allow your right hip to descend, keeping your hips relatively level. Hold for several breaths.
Helpful Hip Openers: Modified Goukhasana
Gomukhasana (cow’s face pose) is a good example of a passive stretch to the hip rotators. Sit on the floor and extend your legs forward in dandasana (staff pose). If you have trouble sitting upright, you can sit on the edge of a blanket, but also keep a second blanket or a towel nearby. Bend your right knee and bring your right leg over and across your left leg. Use your hand to draw your right foot close to your outer left hip. Move your left foot across the midline to the right. Using your hands on the floor, lift and wiggle your hips until your knees are stacked, with your right knee above your left.
If you are sitting on a blanket, or the back of your left leg is not touching the floor, or your left knee locks or hurts during the stretch, roll up your second blanket or the towel and place it under your left knee. Hold your right foot in place with your left hand. As you breathe in, lift and lengthen through your spine to the crown of your head; as you exhale, fold forward at the hip crease, bringing your chest toward your knee, keeping your neck relaxed. Move as if you bring your navel toward your knee and keep your spine extended.
Finding the cause
The presence of sciatic pain often leads doctors to look for a herniated disk in the lumbar spine, which may be pressing against the sciatic nerve. Sciatica can also be caused by a small but significant muscle deep within your hip-the piriformis. If the piriformis is tight (and it often is), it exerts pressure on the sciatic nerve and pushes it against the tendons beneath it, which can cause excruciating pain; this is known as the piriformis syndrome.
How can you tell if the problem originates in the piriformis? Here are a few indicators
- Pain and a pins-and-needles sensation down the outside of your calf to the web space between the little and fourth toes.
- Difficulty in walking on your heels or on your toes.
- Burning in the back of your thigh and calf down to your heel, (with stiffness in your legs).
- Pain from sitting, accompanied by a tingling sensation at the back of your thigh. The pain may be relieved by standing, but you still experience numbness in all of your toes even when standing.
- Buttock and sciatic pain from exercising or sitting for long periods of time, with or without sensations of numbness, weakness, or tingling. While the pain may appear during standing activities, it gets worse when you sit down.
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