TIPS ON TUESDAYS: Combat Sciatica and Lower Back Pain (Part 2 of 3)

January 17, 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

Lower back pain. Hip pain.  A shooting pain down the leg.  A burning and tingling sensation or weakness and numbness in the leg, possibly even into the foot.  A constant nagging pain in the rear (no, it's not your mother-in-law nor your kid, whom you, of course, love dearly).  These are all common complaints of sciatica.

Sciatica is actually a set of symptoms, not a diagnosis of what is causing pain.  Sciatica refers to the sciatic nerve either being irritated or compressed by another spinal structure such as when there are herniated or degenerative discs present.

This nerve can run either under or through the piriformis muscle (which is why it's often confused with piriformis syndrome) and is different for everyone.  This is why it's important to get a proper diagnosis.

The good news is that in most cases damage to the sciatic nerve is not permanent.  With a strap and block or bolster plus a little TLC, one can ease the symptoms and get back to living!

In last week's TIPS ON TUESDAYS, I shared with you a simple stretch with a not so simple name to help with this.  "Supta Eka Padangustasana" for you Sanskrit buffs.  And if you're not in the mood for a tongue twister, calling it "Reclining Leg, Foot and Toe Stretch" will do just fine.

This week we're building from that with a variation, taking the leg out to the side.

BENEFITS:

  • Stretches tight hamstrings, groin and adductors
  • Relieves lower back and sacrum pain
  • Strengthens the hip joints
  • Strengthens the knee joints (also helpful for recovery from a knee injury or surgery)
  • Relieves menstrual discomfort and pain
  • Helps recover from cardiac conditions

HOW TO DO IT:

  • Place a bolster or block to the right side of your body 
  • Lie down with both knees bent, feet on the ground (place a small pillow or blanket to support your head if you have high blood pressure or it just feels better to you)
  • Bend the right knee into chest and wrap a strap, belt or bathrobe tie around the ball of the foot 
  • Extend 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 and keep it flexed throughout the stretch (this protects the ligaments around the knee)
  • Place your left hand on your left hip to anchor it down as you extend your right leg out to the side, placing it on the block or bolster you previously set up**
  • Focus on your breath, breathing in and out through the nose
  • With each exhale, maybe you bring the foot lower to the ground (you can move the block or bolster further away from you to achieve this) and also closer towards the wall behind you for a deeper stretch in the hamstrings
  • Hold the stretch (but never your breath!) for 30 seconds, eventually working up to 1 minute
  • Repeat on other side

SUPER EXTRA HELPFUL BONUS TIPS:

  • Pressing your hand on the hip opposite of the leg you're stretching (meaning left hand on left hip when stretching the right leg to the side) is vital to keeping the aligment of the pelvic girdle and not tweaking your lower back; we want to EASE lower back pain not aggravate it.**
  • Whether your foot touches the floor or not is unimportant.  This is not a flexibility competition!  If your opposite hip lifts (or you're struggling to keep it down) when you bring your leg out to the side, it means you've gone too far.  Place the block or bolster closer to you to give your leg and hips more support until you feel both hips are evenly grounded.