Yoga and acupuncture: Helpful for sciatic nerve pain?

By Jenilee Matz, MPH Dec 18, 2023 • 3 min

Pain along the sciatic nerve, which runs from the low back to the hips and buttocks and down each leg, is called sciatic nerve pain. The good news is that sciatic nerve pain tends to be temporary. In fact, about 80% to 90% of people with sciatica say their symptoms improve on their own in time, typically within a few weeks.

What causes sciatica?

Sciatica can be caused by a herniated disc, a bone spur on the spine or spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spine) that compresses part of the nerve. In most cases, sciatica only affects one side of the body. Symptoms include pain that radiates down the back of your leg and can vary from mild to severe, inflammation, and sometimes numbness in the affected leg.

How is sciatica treated?

Your healthcare provider may suggest that you apply gentle ice or heat to the area. Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol), may also help. It's important that you stay as active as possible. Resting too much may cause other complications, including pain and muscle weakness. If these measures don't bring you relief, your healthcare provider may recommend prescription medications. In severe cases, they may advise surgery, especially if you have significant leg weakness or bowel or bladder changes due to sciatica.

Your healthcare provider may also refer you to a physical therapist to teach you exercises that can help correct posture, strengthen back muscles and increase flexibility. For instance, they may show you how to stretch muscles near your sciatic nerve such as the piriformis muscle in the buttocks, which could be compressing the nerve (piriformis syndrome).

Is yoga good for sciatica?

At this time, it is unknown if yoga exercises for sciatica or specific yoga poses for sciatica can help relieve pain. There is some evidence that yoga is helpful in relieving low back pain. In general, yoga is considered a safe form of physical activity for healthy people. Still, injuries from yoga, such as strains, can occur. Before you try a yoga class, talk to your healthcare provider about yoga and sciatica. If your healthcare provider suggests yoga for sciatica pain, be sure to ask them what type of yoga you should practice and if there are any sciatica yoga poses to avoid. You should also tell your yoga instructor about your sciatica. They may be able to assist you with certain poses, stretches and yoga for lower back pain and sciatica or help you modify poses that could aggravate the sciatic nerve.

Could acupuncture help ease sciatica nerve pain?

In acupuncture, a provider inserts thin needles through your skin to stimulate certain parts of your body. Some studies show that acupuncture may help reduce certain types of pain, including low back pain. In general, acupuncture is considered safe when performed by a licensed, experienced provider who uses sterile needles. However, more research is needed before it's known if acupuncture can aid in sciatic pain relief. Talk to your healthcare provider about acupuncture and sciatica. Ask if they can suggest any specific acupuncture points for sciatica. If your healthcare provider recommends acupuncture, find an acupuncturist with a license, certification or registration to practice acupuncture in your state.

How to find out if you should try yoga or acupuncture for sciatica nerve pain

There is not strong enough evidence to say for sure if complementary approaches, such as yoga or acupuncture, for sciatica nerve pain are effective for chronic pain. Yet some scientific research suggests that certain approaches, including yoga and acupuncture, may help manage symptoms in certain painful conditions. Talk with your healthcare provider to find out if yoga for sciatica, acupuncture for sciatica or any other complementary treatments for nerve pain may be right for you. Your provider can help you decide what treatments are best to help manage your pain.

Clinically reviewed and updated by Julie McDaniel, MSN, RN, CRNI December 2023.

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