How Somatics can Reduce the Symptoms of Sciatica & Back Pain
In this week’s blog we are going to look into the subject of sciatica and back pain. In order to know how we can tackle the issue, we need to know what it is, how we can prevent it and if we do develop it, what we can do to treat it.
Sciatica is one of the most common types of pain, however many people have very little understanding about it. In today’s blog we will delve into the subject because over 40% of people will suffer with sciatica at some point in their life. As people age, the chance of developing sciatica increases.
Dr Jeffrey N Katz, Professor of medicine and orthopaedic surgery at Harvard Medical School states,
”People who suffer from acute or chronic back pain tend to be more susceptible to sciatica.”
So what is sciatica and who does it affect?
The sciatic nerves are large (as thick as your little finger) and run from the centre of your lumbar spine, through your glutes (bum muscle) and down the back of your legs, to the soles of your feet and big toes. The pain originates from the sciatic nerve when it is inflamed. The pain feels very deep and can be felt the whole way or partially along the nerve pathway, where it branches off to the lower back, glutes, leg, calf or foot. Sciatica can also be caused by a herniated disc pressing on the sciatic nerve. The most common reason for sciatica is muscular tension within the piriformis (glutes) which compresses on the sciatica nerve.
Sciatica can affect anybody, however there are certain actions, behaviours and postures which can create this intense pain. In Somatics, we always consider the emotional and mental make up of a person. Their personality and how they act, react, respond and interact in life translates in to their muscular system.
Let’s consider this posture which I created for Total Somatics Facebook (@totalsomatics) and instagram (@total_somatics) pages a few months ago.
Notice that many people in society think this is a good pose. However let us dissect it a little further! Notice the sway back of the lady. Although she is slender, this pose tries to spill her tiny belly out. This pose creates excessive muscular tension through the lumbar spine, which creates rigidity and poor shock absorbency through the lower back. As a result of this action, a vertebrae or disc can slip forward and compress the nerve fibres. Imagine the sciatic nerve as a garden hose. The compression of a nerve from a disc or vertebra will create a ‘kink’ in the nerve or garden hose, affecting the function and in the case of the neuromuscular system, creating pain. Notice too her shoulders are set back, creating rigidity in her upper back, neck, shoulders and jaw. It is common to see clients in my clinical practice with this posture exhibiting muscular pain and tension from the base of the skull, along their back, all the way to the arches of their feet.
As you read this blog I would like you to experiment for yourself. If you can, please try mimicking this pose.
Stand up. Draw your shoulders back, Draw your head in, stick your belly out and allow your bottom to stick out behind you, creating a sway back. Imitate the lady's posture above. Be careful doing this. Transfer your weight into your heels. Now try walking around your lounge. Do you notice how uncomfortable and distorted it feels? If you can, feel the level or degree of muscle tension this posture creates in your lumbar spine or lower back. Imagine holding this posture constantly. No wonder back pain and sciatica can become crippling when you don’t know how to reduce the severity. Yet some people are living in this posture 24/7.
Come out of your pose, relax and enjoy the rest of this blog!
Catalogue of symptoms
Did you notice that this posture creates tension along your entire back? In Somatics we look at the muscular system globally. We observe and palpate (touch) muscles to understand where and how they have tightened. We refer to a chain of tight muscles as ‘a full body pattern of contraction.’ Working methodically with the three step process of pandiculation, we begin releasing this full body pattern of muscular contraction.
Consider the biomechanics of this ‘Sargeant Major’ posture. If you have chronically tight back muscles, you have very little movement and shock absorbency. People who exhibit this posture are Type A personalities. They like to keep very busy and enjoy living on the adrenaline (even if they don't realise they thrive on that surge of adrenaline...which is addictive). Some people exhibit this posture after dealing with stress over the years. They are the type of personality that will work through the stress and keep busy so they don’t have to think about the past or ongoing stress. This posture is created by the brainstem, an area in your brain which creates subconscious actions. This posture is a subconscious action created from the ‘fight or flight’ stress response. So basically when you observe a person’s posture, you get a good insight into the condition and actions of their central nervous system. This posture is the stress response created to either challenge, fight or flee from danger. The mind and body are on high alert.
This high alert is great as a short term stress response, however staying in this stress pose for too long can cause a person to crash and burn. This may result in Fibromyalgia, Chronic fatigue syndrome, inflammatory bowel disorders, reproductive issues, plantar fasciitis, sciatica, herniated discs, neck and shoulder pain, jaw issues and headaches.
In my clinical practice I see a common thread with Type A personalities, their hobbies and their pain. Type A personalities tend to opt for hobbies such as running, Yoga, boxing, crossfit, dance and gymnastics. They find these hobbies a way to ‘wind down.’ However they also gravitate towards them because these sports continue to hold the muscular tension in the habit the brain has developed. A runner is basically recreating the literal ‘fight or flight’ stress reaction with running and creating a sway back and tense shoulders. A person practising Yoga will spend a considerable portion of their practise arching their back and intensifying the subcortical or subconscious muscle contractions of their lumbar spine. Likewise a dancer and gymnast will also over arch their lower back and take their body into excessive positions which in turn create undue strain on the muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints. Boxing and crossfit are sports practised by high achievers or people that want to work through their stress with high intensity and adrenaline!
As a result of gravitating towards these hobbies, they are creating further muscle tension and rigidity through the back of their body. If they continue to practise these activities, they begin to loose coordination, movement and shock absorbency through their lower back. When the large muscles, bones and joints in your lower back no longer absorb the impact, the pain begins.
How can Total Somatics help?
Total Somatics looks at the whole person. The Total Somatics Approach to Health & Wellness Online Program at www.TotalSomatics.com will teach you in greater detail how to identify these postures without looking in a mirror! I will teach you skills so that you can self regulate throughout your day and reset your posture with Somatic Movements and tips. I have also created an entire video series on Mindfulness and Mindset. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of this section. Over the years I have seen the power of developing the Total Somatics Mindfulness and Mindset skills to bring your entire practise to a personalised approach.
I will teach you how to reset your muscle length WITHOUT stretching. I will teach you the 3 step phase known as PANDICULATION which is a safer, efficient and much more effective way to work with and release chronic or acute back pain and sciatica.
Would you like to learn Somatics in the comfort of your own home, at a time that suits you? Join me today and allow me to guide you through this amazing and powerful mind and body practise. To learn more, go to www.TotalSomatics.com.
Heidi Hadley xx