MOST NAMES FOR pain are what I call geographical because they state the location rather than the cause. A good example of that is sciatica. What does that word mean to you? To you it means that the pain is running down your leg, which you already know even if you didn’t have a name for it. The name doesn’t tell you anything about the pain except where it is and you already know that.
Legend would tell you that the sciatic nerve is being frayed or pinched as it exits the spine. If multiple expensive tests show no problem with the spine, what then? Most often it is being squeezed as it passes through the big gluteal muscles located just under the back pocket of your jeans.
Perhaps the sciatic nerve causes a BIG pain because it is the largest and one of the longest nerves in the body and because the gluteal muscles, through which the sciatic nerve runs, are very powerful. The sciatic nerve exits the vertebrae of the low back, passes under your back pocket area and continues down the back of the upper leg.
The Mayo Clinic says that sciatic pain usually goes away by itself in a week. But if it doesn’t, go to the doctor. There you will be offered tests, shots and physical therapy and hear multiple mutterings of “herniated, bulging, slipped disc,” “pinched nerve,” and “stenosis.” Suggestions for home treatment include medication, braces, rest, heat, cold, and back strengthening exercise. However none of these addresses the usual cause: muscle spasm.
Picture this: if you have a garden hose with water running through it and you squeeze it or put a kink in it, the flow of the water is interrupted. Most of the time this is what happens to the poor sciatic nerve. In this case the squeeze or kink is caused not by your hand but by the powerful muscles in the area, which have, for one reason or another, decided to go into spasm.
Old Injury Plus Stress
“Why now?” you ask… Just when you got laid off and have to find a new job… Just when the new baby is due to arrive… Just when Junior’s wedding is next week. Ahhhh. Most muscle pain that appears to appear out of nowhere is caused by two things: an old injury plus stress. The stress? No job, the new baby, or junior’s wedding… Stress can be the good kind or the bad kind.
But what about the old injury?
In the case of sciatic pain, a good blow of any kind can be the cause. Those wild toboggan rides you weathered as a teen, the unexpected insult when the chair was pulled out from under you, a slip in the tub or your first skating lesson which resulted in a sizable black and blue around your too, too tender tailbone. Other insults or overuse causing the gluteals to spasm are sports that include running, going too long on the treadmill or powerlifting. In other words, repetitive movement without the sense to change the use of the muscles and to balance it out with stretching.
When injury occurs, tender points or trigger points, collect in the muscles. These points, probably electrical and/or chemical in nature, sit around waiting for stress to happen in your life. Then BINGO… Like a switch the nasty little trigger points throw the host muscle into spasm. And OHHHHHHHHHHHH.
One of Bonnie’s sayings is, “Seldom do wonderful things happen while we wait.” So instead of waiting for the pain to go away as the Mayo Clinic suggests it will after a week, take some action. Here’s what to do.
Bonnie Prudden Myotherapy® consists of applying pressure to trigger points and reeducating the muscle with specific corrective exercise. One of the theories (not ours) is that pressure to the trigger point denies it oxygen and allows the muscle to relax.
One of Bonnie’s many contributions was Corrective Exercise. The muscle that has been in a knotty state needs to learn to stay relaxed. Reminded on a regular basis, using the corrective back exercises, the muscles learn the new habit and behave by staying relaxed.
Your Turn Now
When pressure is applied to a trigger point it hurts. Apply only enough pressure to make it uncomfortable. A 5, 6, 7 on a scale of 1 to 10 is about right. Hold your pressure steady for a count of 7 seconds and then move on to the next point. For a view of how this is done, follow along with Lori, Bonnie Prudden Master Myotherapy Instructor by clicking here.
- Look at the diagrams to the right.
- Have your friend with the sciatica lie on the table, bed or floor. Note: If YOU are the one with the sciatica, place a wooden spoon or something similar against the wall and back into it. A Sharpie® pen works, as does the end of a broomstick.
- Place your elbow in the spots – trigger points – shown in the diagrams for low back, gluteals, hip, and hamstrings.
- Follow with Corrective Exercises for each of these areas as shown below. After your quick fix and the exercises you will probably feel immediate relief. Perform four reps of each of the exercises 4 to 6 times a day until the pain is gone. After that do them morning and night…but if stress rears its ugly head, do them more often.
“The best way to offset tension is with physical activity.”
These basic back exercises are safe, easy and effective. They are key to getting well and maintaining a pain free back. Do them often. Your back will be happy.
Pictures and drawings are from Myotherapy: Bonnie Prudden’s Complete Guide to Pain-free Living, Pain Erasure the Bonnie Prudden Way, or from Bonnie Prudden Corrective Exercises.
For more information about Bonnie Prudden®, Bonnie Prudden Myotherapy®, workshops, books, self-help tools, DVDs, educational videos, and blogs, visit www.bonnieprudden.com. Or call 520-529-3979 if you have questions or need help. Enid Whittaker, Managing Director, Bonnie Prudden Myotherapy®