Sciatica can be a real pain in the butt, and down the leg or legs, and into the feet, its awful, I know from experience. In my late 20’s I was a personal fitness trainer. I had always been sporty a competitive swimmer, part of the school teams for athletics, netball and basketball, I trained with weights, was strong and flexible. Ever since my teens, however, I had also suffered with reoccurring bouts of lower back pain. Not too frequently, but when it arrived it was very uncomfortable, I took anti-inflammatories and had physiotherapy and it then seemed to subside again until the next time!
Being Fitness Manager of a private gym I had to assess the instructors’ classes, during this time I injured myself and experienced sciatica for the first time. I was in the middle of an ‘abs blast class’, the instructor performed a controversial, advanced abdominal exercise and rather than saying no to doing it, I thought ‘just be careful, don’t make a fuss!’ Well, bad decision. My back reacted and over the next few days it got worse. It wasn’t just back pain this time, but pain in my butt and down my right leg and into my foot – pain and pins and needles. This carried on for weeks, then months. I had regular physio, but I was on my feet all day and in pain, it just didn’t get better. I went through cycles of weekly physio where I would feel worse after treatment, then felt better, then needed treatment again the next week, as I was back to square one. This was not to say the physio wasn’t helpful, but I couldn’t rest and was building habits of body-use that were symptomatic of the pain I was experiencing, which unknown to me were exasperating the sciatica.
I had received a few lessons before becoming a personal trainer, but it wasn’t until my son was born, that the sciatica became worse again so I decided enough was enough and went back to lessons. I was drawn to AT because I knew I was learning skills to help myself rather than relying on a physio to always fix me. I became a student rather than a patient.
As my embodied awareness improved and with the hands on help of a great teacher, certain things became clear to me:
-I had not recognised the habits of body use I had inadvertently created (due to the pain) which were also aggravating the sciatica. The way I was using myself was affecting the way I functioned (which is one of Alexander’s Principles).
-My first step was to become aware of the excess tension I carried in my legs, butt and abs in particular. I also noticed my habit of shifting weight onto my left leg, and in sitting, my left sitting bone. This in turn shifted my balance with the result that my body was pulled down towards the painful side, and my head tilted that way too. My right foot was also turned out and I stood with my right foot in advance of the left one.
-I had faulty sensory appreciation (another of Alexander’s Principles and unique to the technique). I was so used to moving in my habitual way, it felt right and balanced! In fact when my teacher first brought me into balance it felt like all my weight was on my right leg instead and my body and head were tilting to the left.
-I noticed the reduction in tension that this change allowed, releasing the tension caused by pulling down. I was not pulling or stretching up the collapsed side, it was an absence of tension and direction I was experiencing non-doing(another AT principle). A FM Alexander said ‘If you stop doing the wrong thing the right thing will do itself’.
-Also I became aware of the very long term habit I had of standing and sitting in a ‘military’ type posture. Shoulders back, chest out, arching my lowers back and lifting my chin. This had been my habit since primary school. My Mum encouraging me not to slouch with those classic military directions. She was round shouldered and didn’t want my sister and I to follow suit. Influenced by her Father, a Sargent Major in the Commando’s in WWII, she was passing on the advice she had ignored and regretted! (Later, however, my Mum had AT lessons too, in fact before I did, which completely changed her posture. Mum lost her round shoulders entirely and grew 1inch!). I learnt to pause, inhibit my old habits and direct, allowing my back to lengthen and widen. I found checking in a mirror very helpful. My faulty sensory appreciation made me feel as though I was slouching forward, where as in fact I was standing in balance with my shoulders widening away from each other.
This was the beginning of the empowering process of embodied awareness which the Alexander Technique teaches and at last I was able to actively help myself and reduce the effects of sciatica and lower back pain. I could move with awareness and direction and create less stress and more poise and co-ordination in my body. Alexander Technique is a practice like meditation, and I have embedded this into my life, it’s always there to help me.
For more information about Alexander Technique, back pain, and other ways it can help and empower you contact me to have a chat and/or to book a consultation and first lesson.