Many people who suffer from sciatica turn to yoga for relief. This ancient practice has some modern benefits for today’s patients. From reducing stress to stretching tight muscles to inspiring inner calm, yoga for sciatica may be able to help with your pain. Here’s how.

What is sciatica?

Sciatica pain is caused by a problem with the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back through the hip and down the leg. This can be a confusing condition to have, since pain in a leg may not indicate a problem with the leg, but rather, a pinched nerve in the low back.

The following video gives an overview of this painful condition.

What are common sciatica symptoms?

Sciatica pain isn’t always felt in one particular place, however, and usually feels as though it’s radiating down into the hip, buttock, and down the leg. (The sciatic nerve separates in the lower back and runs down each leg separately, so symptoms are usually felt in one leg or the other.)

In addition to pain, a person with sciatica may also experience:

  • Numbness in the lower body
  • Sharp and shooting
  • Pain that is worse after the person has been sitting for a long period of time
  • Weakness in the lower body
  • Lack of control over bladder or bowels

It’s estimated that more than 5% of U.S. adults suffer from sciatica. Certain factors can place a person at a higher risk for experiencing sciatica pain, including a person’s job or hobbies: A person who frequently carries heavy objects or makes rotating movements increases the risk of developing the condition.

People who are largely inactive, overweight, or have been diagnosed with diabetes are also at risk of experiencing sciatica pain. And as a person grows older, the greater the likelihood of experiencing the condition. Some researchers estimate that over a person’s lifetime, the chances of developing sciatica are as high as 40%.

Can yoga for sciatica help me?

Sciatica can have many different causes, from herniated discs to piriformis muscle tension. Yoga can help in cases with tight muscles, but you should proceed with caution if you haven’t diagnosed the cause of your sciatica pain yet. In some cases, yoga could actually exacerbate or worsen your pain. (We talk about more of the causes of sciatica here.) Always talk to your doctor before trying yoga.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health does note that multiple studies support the use of yoga for lower back pain, with effective results. The literature fully supports yoga for lower back pain, with one recent study showing that it’s as effective as physical therapy. Another study from the Journal of Back and Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation did report positive benefits from yoga for sciatica, noting that: “Yoga therapy can be safe and beneficial for patients with nsLBP or sciatica, accompanied by disc extrusions and bulges.”

However, specific research on yoga for sciatica is limited. So while yoga can play an important part in reducing muscle tension in your legs and back, it may not fully “cure” or “heal” your condition. Always work closely with your doctor to create a comprehensive pain management plan for you.

Yoga for sciatica routines

The internet is a great place to find easy yoga routines, with images or even video. Once you’ve visited a class and have become more familiar with yoga basics, you can incorporate some of these programs into your practice.