5 Simple Ways to Ease Sciatic Pain

Article by Lucas Rockwood

Do you have sciatic nerve pain? It usually starts in your lower back or your butt, and then radiates down your leg, sometimes all the way to your knee, sometimes all the way to your foot.

A few years ago, after a 10-day Vipassana silent meditation retreat where I’d sat cross-legged again and again for hours, when I left I noticed that my right leg felt a little weird.

The sensation started right around my right butt cheek and radiated down my leg. In certain positions, I couldn’t feel my leg at all, it was totally numb. My balance was horrible, and I couldn’t stand on one leg in Tree Pose. As a yoga instructor, this was a big problem. I needed my leg in full working order to teach, and all that sitting had put excessive pressure on my lower back and created a sciatic nerve flare up.

This was really disconcerting, but it cleared up completely within about six weeks. Along the way, I learned some very interesting things about the sciatic nerve and recovery.

What’s Causing Your Sciatic Pain?

Your sciatic nerve is the longest and thickest nerve in your body, in some areas it’s as wide as 1.5 to 2 cm. It starts at your lower back where five nerve roots at L4, L5, S1, S2, and S3 come together and run down the back of your leg, innervating your hamstrings and then branching out into most of the muscles of the lower leg. In this way, a sciatic nerve impingement way up in your lumbar spine can sometimes manifest in pain and weakness all the way down in your foot.

The term ‘sciatica’ refers to inflammation or impingement of your sciatic nerve, but it doesn’t tell us what is going on. The underlying cause is usually some sort of compression or injury in the lumbar spine that is pinching the nerve. This is important to understand because we often have to travel upstream from the pain to help solve the problem. Let’s take a closer look at this area, so you can begin to understand what might be causing your pain.

An estimated 90 percent of sciatic nerve pain starts with a disc bulge or herniation in the lower back, where the nucleus pulposus pushes on or even breaks through the annulus fibrosus in the disc. The protruding tissue presses the nerve and causes pain.

Can Painkillers And Supplements Help?

Only use painkillers like ibuprofen when absolutely necessary, or when recommended by your doctor. It’s usually best to let your body’s own healing mechanisms work. It can be helpful to use natural anti-inflammatory omega-3 oil in the form of fish, krill, or algae oils, 1 gram per day is a typical dose.

The Best Corrective & Regressive Exercises

Walking is the first line of defense for treating a lumbar spine injury. It may sound simple and obvious, but the clinical data on gentle walking is overwhelming—it really helps. Start with 1km per day on flat ground, and over time, work up to 3km per day. Just ensure you’re pain-free as you walk, and don’t be tempted to push it in terms of speed or distance.

During times of injury, it’s very helpful to regress our movement patterns back to basics. Around the age of one, a child learns to crawl around the house. This simple, primal crawling movement establishes core strength needed for bipedal walking to soon follow. When you’re healing, it’s helpful to go back to the floor and work on crawling. Start with 10 paces and try 10 sets daily.

Download PDF pose chart

Here are three more corrective exercises worth trying:

Pointer Pose

  • Isometric poses like this one are safe and a great gateway back to strength practices.
  • From a crawling position, extend your right arm and left leg like a pointer dog.
  • Hold for one minute.
  • Switch sides and repeat.

Supine Twist

  • Lie on your back.
  • Hook your right foot behind your left knee, and use your left hand to press your knee towards the left.
  • Be gentle and take it slowly, you’re mobilizing your spine while simultaneously stretching the muscles on the backside of your pelvis.

Dog Flow with Chair

  • Stand about 1 meter from a chair or countertop.
  • Place your hands a little wider than your shoulders and step your feet out a little wider than your hips.
  • Inhale, lift your chest forward into an updog with support and hold 1-2-3-4-5.
  • Exhale, gently press back with your knees bent to a supported downdog go for 5-4-3-2-1.
  • Continue to move slowly and carefully. If you feel pain, slow down or modify.

Corrective Exercises & Pain

While healing, your pain should either stay the same or reduce—never worsen. If anything, you’re creating more pain and you need to adjust your program. If you have radiating pain down your leg, as the pain starts to radiate less and localize more—usually up closer to the lower back—that is a sign of progress. If your pain is not reducing and you’re not finding resolution, seek medical advice for further investigation.

If you’re suffering from serious sciatica pain, if you’re having trouble controlling your bladder or bowels, you should see a doctor right away.

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