Sciatica: It Really Gets On Your Nerves

Posted on March 5, 2024

If sitting is the new smoking, then it’s no surprise that sciatica is the new tennis elbow.

In fact, sciatica is often caused by sitting around and/or piling on the pounds. It can also be caused by doing something physical but doing it the wrong way.

“There’s a lot of misconceptions when it comes to sciatica,” says Flex director Heather Thomas Shalabi. “And one of those is that people think the best way to relieve sciatica is to stretch.

“But by stretching in a forward bend – either standing or sitting – and if you’re not doing it the right way, you can inflame the condition,” adds Heather. “I see a lot of people aggravating their sciatica by doing this”.

Luckily, if you have been medically advised to exercise to relieve a proper diagnosis of sciatica, Flex can help. But first, we have to get a little scientific.

Sciatica is not the diagnosis alone. It is the result of a bigger problem.

The sciatic nerve starts around the lower back and runs down the back of the leg. Sciatica is a condition caused by pressure on this nerve. This may come from herniated discs in the lower back or from tight buttock muscles (the gluteus medius and/or the piriformis) muscle. A herniated disc can come from injury, weakness, excessive weight or constant physical movement (lifting, twisting, bending and so on) done incorrectly, such as not bending down to lift something way heavier than you are.

If the sciatica is the result of very tight buttock muscles (lucky you), it’s because the sciatic nerve runs straight through the glute and piriformis muscles, in others, alongside it. And if you overwork your buttock muscles, they can impinge on the sciatic nerve and cause pain, which will travel through the buttock possibly all the way to the foot, and sometimes up into the lower back. Loosening the piriformis muscle with deep body rolling tools can be a great reliever.

Sciatica Pain

Of course, your pain may be presenting itself as sciatica, but the route cause could be a serious degenerative disc problem of the spine, in which case, any forward bending is ill advised. So please discuss with your physician if you have persistent pain, despite releasing glutes and hip.

The good news? If your doctor advises that the sciatic pain could pass when treated with the right exercises, a good stretch is key. But don’t simply get out there and bend it like Beckham.

“What you need when stretching is to first lift your body ‘up’ and – I can’t stress this enough – extend the body before forward tilting at the hips,” says Heather.

Sounds easy. But we know it’s not. Here, Master Dilip Pillai, the newest member of the Flex team and also a yoga therapist, shares the most effective poses for relieving sciatica.

Cow Face Pose, or Gomukhasana:

Dilip starts in a comfortable seat then crosses his knees over each other and stacks them evenly, ensuring both feet are flexed and at the side of the body. He keeps his spine straight, head upright and arms by his side. He inhales deeply, exhales, extends his back even higher and leans using a forward hip-tilt to the front of the room – not DOWN to his knees – but as though he is trying to place his forehead on the wall in front of him. In other words, by the time he has reached this position, he has extended and – once gravity has taken hold – his head has naturally reaches close to his knees. Hold for a few breaths and rise the same way you tilted forward. It’s an incredible back stretch and hip reliever. There is a variation if you feel up to it, whereby the hands are in a bind behind your head.

Balasana, or Child’s Pose:

Childs pose rocks, because it’s basically like a snooze. See how Master Dilip (photo 2) is sitting upright, knees folded neatly underneath him. If you can’t do that part, find a yoga block and place it under your buttocks, knees folded either side. Once you’ve inhaled deeply and ensured your back is upright and your head is in line with your super straight spine, extend up and over – very slowly – as far as you can go (photo 3). Ideally, your forehead will reach the floor and you can breathe into the stretch. This pose stretches hips, thighs, and ankles while reducing stress and fatigue.

Seated One Legged Fold, or Janu Sirsasana:

Seated one-legged forward fold gives a stretch to the back legs, from the glutes to the hamstrings to the calves and is also great for the side body. As with any hamstring stretch, practicing this asana will release the lower back. It’s also calming. But remember, as with the other poses, you are extending up, then forward. Notice that Master Dilip’s head is not on his shins and that his right foot is flexed close to his body. His left foot is also flexed and his buttocks are flat on the floor. His elbows are bent as his grasps the inside and outside of one foot. If you can’t reach your foot, aim for the shin and breathe.

Dilip teaches Yin Yoga at One Island South on Thursday evenings from 7.30pm, ideal for relieving sciatic nerve pain.

Need more help for sciatic pain or tight muscles? Flex is hosting the wonderful Mika Childs, who teaches Yamuna Body Rolling®, at two very helpful workshops.

Body Rolling for Sciatica, at Island South, Oct 20, 11.30am-12.30pm and Central, October 22, 1.15pm-2.15pm. Body Rolling for Tennis Elbow and Frozen Shoulder, at Island South on November 17, 1pm-2.30pm and Central, November 19, 1.15pm-2.15pm. 

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