Almost one out of two people will struggle with sciatica at one point in their life. It is a complex problem, says yoga therapist Doug Keller, which originates from different causes and even multiple causes at the same time.
Sciatica is primarily related to muscular tension, particularly in the piriformis, but other muscles are involved as well.
The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body. It runs from the lower back all the way down to the feet. Sciatic pain ranges from simply being annoying to being debilitating; it can radiate into the buttocks or down into the leg to the point where a person can’t function.
In this talk, Doug talks about what provokes sciatica and the different ways yoga might be able to prevent or relieve the condition. Sitting for long periods of time without getting up is one factor that can trigger sciatica.
Another factor is simply the process of growing older. With age, the muscles and the fascia tend to dry out, Doug explains. When the fascia gets tight, or sticky, nerves which usually glide through the fascia tend to get caught. So when we stretch, it pulls on the nerve and may cause the pain. The sciatic nerve is so long that just during normal movement of the leg, it has to stretch and lengthen up to three to five inches.
If the nerve gets stuck in the fascia and if gets stretched a little bit harder, it pulls on the branches and then that provokes the sciatic pain.
Part of working with irritation of the sciatic nerve is just to restore that kind of gliding action to the nerve. Doug explains that that’s not done through what we traditionally think of as stretches, rather, it involves smooth, mindful movements to get the muscles to start to slide and glide and the nerves to slide within it. After that, you can begin to work with specific tightness in the muscles.
Doug also talks about the best yoga poses for sciatica, noting that it’s important to start from very simple actions and follow the principle of that you need to strengthen before you lengthen. He goes into depth on just why the piriformis tends to get tight and how to work with muscles when they go into spasm.