TIPS ON TUESDAYS: Combat Sciatica and Lower Back Pain (Part 1 of 3)

January 10, 2017 | by Michelle Meier

TIPS ON TUESDAYS are weekly tips offering you therapeutic yoga poses to help you improve your health, combat stress or recover from an injury and/or mindfulness techniques to give you that extra boost you need.

Reclining Leg, Foot and Toe Stretch

Lately I've had a lot of people ask me about their sciatica so I felt it appropriate to feature it in my weekly tips to help out.

Quick lesson: The sciatic nerve is the largest single nerve in the body, running from each side of the lower spine through deep in the buttock into the back of the thigh and all the way down to the foot.

Causes of sciatic pain (aka "sciatica") include a tight piriformis muscle, herniated or degenerated disc or spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the spinal canal).  You may feel it as a pain in the butt (and, no, that's not your mother-in-law) or possibly radiating all the way down into your foot (it can be present in one or both sides of the lower body).

Bending forward is one of the worst things you can do when you have sciatica, as it will exacerbate the condition.

Side note: People with lower back pain (whether you have sciatica or not) often have tight hamstrings.  As I often remind my clients, everything is connected!

So what's one to do?  

Enter: Supta Eka Padangustasana.  Say that 5x fast.  This is the Sanskrit term in yoga for "Reclining Leg, Foot and Toe Stretch".  Whether you can say it or not, doesn't matter.  What matters is how it can benefit you, right?

BENEFITS:

  • Relieves sciatic pain
  • Relieves lower back pain better than any other hamstring stretch (the reclining position takes pressures off the spine)
  • Realigns the pelvis and hips
  • Helps treat osteoarthritis of the hip and knees
  • Strengthens the knees (also great for anyone recovering from knee injury)
  • Helps relieve menstrual discomfort and pain (I've been there--and you're welcome, ladies!)
  • Prevents hernia
  • Helps recover from cardiac conditions

HOW TO DO IT:

  • Lie down with both knees bent, feet on the ground (feel free to support your head and neck with a blanket or small pillow)
  • Bend one knee into chest and wrap a strap around the ball of the foot (if you don't have a strap, try out a belt, bathrobe tie, PT band with medium-heavy resistance or you can even roll a bath towel lengthwise--get creative!)
  • Lengthen the leg overhead, making sure to keep the 2nd toe, ankle, knee and hip in one line facing you (meaning your knee isn't torquing to one side or the other)
  • Flex the foot (this protects the ligaments around the knee)
  • Slide your hands down the strap far enough so that the backs of the shoulders connect to the ground and the chest is expanded (no need to turn into a hunchback here!)
  • Focus on your breath, breathing in through the nose and out through the nose
  • With each exhale, maybe you bring the foot overhead closer to the wall behind you, deepening the stretch to the point where you're feeling the stretch but never to a point of pain
  • Hold the stretch (but not your breath!) for 30 seconds (eventually working up to 1 minute)
  • Repeat on other side

SUPER EXTRA HELPFUL BONUS TIPS:

  • While stretching the one leg, keep the other leg bent with foot on the ground (unless you're super flexible or a Cirque du Soleil performer, then stretching that other leg straight is unnecessary).
  • Notice if you're clenching your jaw or holding your breath at any point during the stretch.  Your breath is your most powerful tool!!  Breathe deeply to help you surrender into the stretch instead of fighting against it.