If you’re experiencing a searing, numbing (and annoying) pain that starts in your lower back and shoots all the way down to your heel, this is what’s known as sciatica pain. Here are some stretches that can help.
The first thing you should do, of course, is visit your doctor. While he or she works to discover the root cause, though, there are some yoga poses that might relieve some of that tension.
Named after the inflamed sciatic nerve, sciatica pain can have many causes, which is why visiting your doc is so important to determine what exactly is causing it. In the meantime, though, a few yoga poses might get you through the day.
Keep in mind these poses should be performed very gently. Listen to your body and use your breath to release the overly tense muscles around your sciatica nerve. If you feel the pain is getting worse at any point, take a step back or avoid that exercise completely.
Everyone’s body is different and it’s important to “do no harm” and respect how your own feels in any given situation.
Starting with the simplest pose, knee-to-chest can easily be done in your bed. It’s actually a great way to start your day as sciatica pain tends to be the worst right after you wake up.
As you lie on your back take a long, deep breath, then slowly bend one knee. Wrap your fingers around your shin and bring your knee to your chest. Leave the other leg relaxed and extended, without any force or tension.
Breathe and use your inhales to create space between your vertebrae. As you exhale, try to bring your knee closer to your chest. Your body can be really stiff in the morning, so don’t force it. Pay attention to your breath and feel your lower back slowly stretch out. After five to 10 long breath cycles, gently release your leg and repeat on the other side.
After you’ve done both legs, bring both knees to your chest and hug them tight. Gently rock from side to side to massage your spine and the muscles surrounding it.
Before you get out of bed, turn to the side and, keeping your knees close to your chest, use your hands to slowly rise up to a seated position. Place both feet on the floor at the same time.
Happy Baby Pose
Named after every baby’s favorite pose, this one releases the tension in your lower back and hips in a very efficient way. It causes two strong opposing forces to work together and create the perfect environment for your spine.
Lie on your back and bring your knees in, grabbing each with one hand, then separate them toward each side of your torso. Stay here for a moment, then send your tailbone down to the mat.
Feel the extension of your spine all the way through your neck to the crown of your head. It should feel like someone is holding your neck, gently stretching it out, and decompressing your spine.
Grab your feet from the in- or outside and kick into your hands while simultaneously pulling your feet toward you. This is the dual-force action that helps your lower back release and stretch out toward the mat. The goal is to, eventually, rest your back flat on the mat.
Breathe into the pose and keep kicking and pulling, extending your spine, and bending your knees. This will open your hips and relax your glutes at the same time.
All of this will help release tension and increase blood flow to the area, which brings in fresh oxygen and flushes out toxins.
The body’s incredible mechanics work in mysterious ways. For example, creating tension in one area of the body causes relaxation in another. This is what makes bridge pose one of the best for reducing sciatica pain and helping you manage your condition.
Lie down on your mat and bend your knees, bringing your feet as close to your sit bones as your body will allow. Separate them so they’re hip-width apart, then press them firmly into the ground. You’ll feel the backs of your legs activate.
Place your arms alongside your body, palms facing downward, then relax your shoulders as far from your ears as possible. This creates space for your neck.
Inhale and lift your hips, pressing your palms and feet into the ground and using them as leverage. Keep lifting your hips and bringing your chest toward your chin (and not the other way around). Relax your glutes and allow your lower back to decompress and stretch out.
You can stay here or take it a step further and open up your shoulders. To do so, bring your hands underneath your body and interlace your fingers. Dig your hands into the mat as you open up your chest and allow your hips to stretch even higher.
Making sure your knees stay hip-width apart and parallel, lift your heels if you feel like your lower back isn’t getting the maximum release. Use your breath to guide you deeper into the pose and tone your spinal muscles, sending fresh oxygen to every cell in your body.
Slowly exit the pose by bringing your arms back to your side, lowering your heels if you lifted them. Gently return your entire torso to the ground, vertebrae by vertebrae, from your upper back to your hips. Once you’re back in the starting position, bring your knees in and hug them close for counterpose.
Standing Forward Fold
Whatever your level of flexibility might be, standing forward folds are amazing for stretching out your spine. It will release the tension from your muscles as you use gravity to naturally create space where your body needs it.
Bending your knees is recommended, even if you can easily touch the floor, as you want to avoid putting any tension on your hamstrings.
Start in a solid standing position, with your feet hip-width apart, then gently bend forward, relaxing your torso over your legs. Bend your knees as much as you need or want to, and let your arms dangle. You can also use a yoga brick if you can’t bend all the way to the floor.
You can also sway side to side or remain still and just allow gravity to stretch out your lower back without any force or struggle. Stay here for as long as you need to, but at least for five long breaths. Then, slowly roll back up to standing, stacking each vertebra one on top of the other.
The ultimate back release, child’s pose is also an amazing hip opener. For those experiencing sciatica pain, this pose can help release the tightness in that area.
Start by spreading your knees nice and wide to the edges of your mat, then lower your torso between your thighs. Stretch your arms out long in front of you. You might need to shimmy your upper body a bit until you find that sweet spot that your body to fully relax onto your mat.
Pull your shoulders away from your ears and walk out with your fingers as far as your flexibility will allow, stretching your entire spine. Use your inhales to elongate your spine, and your exhales to fall deeper into the pose.
Stay here for as long as you want, then repeat this pose as many times throughout the day as necessary.
Sciatica pain isn’t something you should brush off or neglect. If you do, it can progress to the point that it inhibits your normal daily functions. Get it under control by consulting your physician and practicing these yoga poses daily—it can help more than your sciatica, too!