All About Sciatica

If you are a yoga teacher, no doubt someone in one of your classes has told you he or she has sciatica. But what is sciatica exactly, and what does it mean for a yoga practice?

Sciatica is a symptom of a problem along the sciatic nerve. It is a general term that describes pain in one side of the butt; shooting, burning pain down one leg; pain in the butt that gets worse with sitting; and/or numbness or tingling down the leg.

Sciatica – A Cluster of Symptoms

Although the term sciatica describes the pain symptoms, it doesn’t describe the cause of those symptoms. The cause of the symptoms is a much deeper issue that may be related to muscles, a disc, or other anatomical malfunctions of the spine or pelvis that affect the sciatic nerve.

The Main Player – The Sciatic Nerve
The sciatic nerve is a combination of five nerves that originate at the fourth and fifth lumbar vertebrae of the lower part of the spine (L4–L5) and the first three vertebrae of the sacral portion of the spine (S1–S3). These five nerves travel downward and connect in the area of the piriformis muscle. From this landmark, the five nerves become one – the sciatic nerve, which travels down the leg providing nervous system input (strength and sensation) to various sections of the leg and foot. You can see the path of the sciatic nerve in the picture to the right.


Because the sciatic nerve runs the length of the leg and foot, when it becomes “pinched” or jammed by a tight piriformis muscle, spinal problems, disc problems, or imbalances in the pelvis, the effect can be felt throughout the entire limb as numbness, tingling, or muscle weakness.

So what to do? Many teachers and yoga teacher trainees have asked me this question. As yoga instructors, we want to make a difference in the lives of our students. So it may be difficult to read the following – there is no set answer, especially since the symptoms can arise from a host of true causes.
 Then What -
1. The best thing and the very first thing you can do for your student is  to have her ask her physiotherapist, massage therapist, or chiropractor what  the true cause is – whether it is indeed a disc problem, other spinal problem,  tight piriformis, or pelvic imbalance. That is essential information to go on.  
2. Then, if she has been given the green light to continue her yoga  practice, and you are following medical recommendations, begin to check out  her practice. When she is practicing, notice which parts of her body are  overly mobile (or hypermobile); which parts of her body are less mobile (or  hypomobile); which parts of her body are stable; and conversely which parts  are unstable.
3. Once you have determined that, begin to adapt her practice to rebalance  both mobility and stability.
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