I Think My Yoga Student Has Sciatica

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Question

A student of mine has been doing a lot of driving lately. I think this is causing sciatic nerve inflammation. It's hard to say what poses seem to aggravate it — when she stretches and raises her legs in Salabhasana, for instance, this seemed to aggravate it.

Answers

Lisa Powers
Ananda Village
Nevada City, California

Is the student complaining of sciatic pain? The way you’ve worded the question makes it sound like you’re diagnosing a problem. Beware, if this is the case. The sciatic nerve is easily aggravated by activities that stress the lower back, and sitting is one of the main ones. Compression of the lumbar spine during extension is going to aggravate an already inflamed sciatic nerve. A nice stretch for the sciatic is the “Figure 4.” Also, the tightening of muscles around the nerve, such as in the buttocks in Salabhasana, can put pressure on the nerve.

Gyandev McCord
Ananda Village
Nevada City, California

I agree with Lisa’s caution. Has the problem been diagnosed by a health professional, or is it just a guess? Does pain radiate down the leg, or is it isolated in a particular small area?

For example, some people with pain in the gluteal area simply have “yoga butt”: inflammation of the hamstring attachment at the sit bone, due to overeager stretching of the hamstring. Driving a car can worsen that discomfort, but it’s still not sciatica. Big difference between that and sciatica. I recommend finding out more before proceeding.

Doug Andrews
Ananda Yoga of the Redwoods
Boulder Creek, California

It is helpful to identify the source of the sciatic irritation: higher at the spine or lower as the nerve passes through the hips. This might be done by way of experimentation but it is nice if there is some higher tech diagnostics available. Special car seats can be a lot of help as can modification of driving habits if possible.

If you do experiment, go very easy because it is easy to exacerbate the condition in your efforts to help. Gentle, steady stretches to the piriformis muscle may relieve some pressure to the nerve; sustained Child’s Pose is another... sometimes I use a very large exercise ball to create very relaxed forward and backward bends without strain.




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