Yoga for Sciatica

Sciatica is defined as pain along the course of one, or occasionally, both of the two sciatic nerves that stretch from the end of the spinal cord to the feet. The discomfort may range from a minor pins-and-needles sensation to a crippling pain and throbbing in the back and leg, making any movement excruciating.
Several nerve roots leave the spinal cord, exit through holes in the sacrum, and combine to form the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve passes between layers of the deep buttock muscles and then into the deep muscles in the back of the thigh. Pain caused by irritation or pressure on the sciatic nerve anywhere along its course is called sciatica. Typically this pain starts in the buttocks and extends down the rear of the thigh and lower leg. Pain may also be felt in the lower back.
A primary cause of sciatica is a herniated or bulging lower lumbar intervertebral disc that compresses one of the nerve roots before it joins the sciatic nerve. Another cause of sciatica is called piriformis syndrome. The piriformis muscles extend from the side of the sacrum to the top of the thigh bone at the hip joint, passing over the sciatic nerve. A tight or short piriformis muscle can compress and irritate the sciatic nerve. Because the piriformis muscles act to rotate the legs outward, people who habitually stand with their feet turned out often develop piriformis syndrome, as do cyclists and runners, who overuse and understretch the piriformis muscles.
If the source of sciatica is pressure from a short, tight piriformis muscle, the muscle must be gently stretched. If the source of sciatica is from a bulging disc, gentle low back stretching and strengthening exercises will help. However, if it is due to a herniated disc, disc surgery may be necessary. Check with a doctor to determine the source of your sciatica.
Many of my students (myself included) found the following exercises very helpful in relieving sciatica. Remember to check with a doctor before trying any exercises.