What is Sciatica?

Sciatica is a condition defined as “pain that radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve – which branches from your lower back through your hips and buttocks and down each leg.”

Sciatic pain is traditionally alleviated through painkillers, prescription muscle relaxants, physical therapy exercises that provide “conditioning” to reduce sciatic pain, and other medical intervention. One common medical procedure involves deadening the sciatic nerve. While all of these approaches may relieve some pain, they are not effective for the long term. This is because the pain is being addressed, while the root cause is not.

Hanna Somatic Education views sciatica as the result of a full-body contraction pattern, caused by Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA), that can be reversed through sensory motor learning – with long-term results.

Who Does Sciatica Affect?

Some commonly affected groups include hairdressers, mothers with young children, pregnant women, people who frequently lift heavy objects, and athletes that predominantly utilize one side of their body (such as golfers), but it can affect anyone who has had to compensate for an accident or injury.

What Causes Sciatica?

Sciatica is a classic case of Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) – chronically tight muscles that have learned to stay contracted in response to stress. In most cases, sciatica is not a medical problem; it is a functional problem of the muscular system. Even pregnant women with sciatica can develop it due to SMA and a response to the natural changes during pregnancy. (Somatic Exercises are an effective daily maintenance program to deal with the daily stresses of pregnancy and reduce the risk of developing sciatica and other muscle tension-related issues.)

The movement patterns of a person suffering from sciatica are important to address because they are at the root of the problem. Sciatica, like many common muscle pain conditions, results from repetitive movement patterns and, in many cases, compensation to an accident or injury. Many people who experience sciatica have similar one-sided movement habits that contribute to their pain:

  • Standing for hours at a time
  • Distortion of the spine through repetitive one-sided movements
  • Compensation for injuries in the hip, knee, lower leg or ankle

These daily movement habits may be inherent to one’s occupation (computer work, heavy lifting, childcare), or simply a response to the stressors of daily life. Regaining control of muscles that have learned to stay tight due to repetitive stress can spell the difference between surgery and saving your sciatic nerve.

In addition to movement habits, most cases of sciatic pain arise from an habituated Trauma Reflex. This reflex occurs due to the need to avoid pain from accidents, injuries, or surgeries. The large muscles of the waist, which attach the ribs to the pelvis, and the large trunk rotators, which allow us to twist, become tighter on one side than the other. This results in an imbalance in the center of the body. The paravertebral muscles of the back and the gluteal muscles on the “trauma” side become overly contracted; these muscles attach to and put pressure on the spine which then squeezes the sciatic nerve.

Once you become aware of what you are doing to cause the muscles to become contracted, you can take the first step towards improving your movement and eliminating your pain. Reversing sciatic pain is a process of education of both the brain and muscles.

How Can Hanna Somatic Education Help?

The only way a muscle contracts is if the brain tells  the muscle to do so. If the message to contract is constant, then the muscle is put on “autopilot” and contracts constantly, even when at rest. Hanna Somatics begins to undo this pattern of constant contraction at the control center: the brain.

Somatic Exercises use pandiculation to teach the brain to reset muscle length and function through movement and improved body awareness. This disrupts the constant message to contract; it also teaches improved sensory motor awareness through experience of how your body responds to stress.

Think about what movements or postural habits you have that teach your muscles to tighten in an unbalanced way. In doing so you can begin to improve your sensory motor control over your muscles while reversing your pain. If you have sciatica, take a moment to notice how you move. Is one hip higher than the other? Do your back muscles feel overly tight? Do you walk with an uneven gait? Do you sit with uneven weight on your hips, leaning on one side more than the other?

If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, Hanna Somatic Education can teach you to rid yourself of sciatic pain for the long term, and take back control of your body – without surgery.

Visit the Essential Somatics® store to buy Martha Peterson’s book, Move Without Pain, or Pain-Free Series DVDs to learn how to improve movement and body awareness as you eliminate pain.

Recommended Somatic Exercises for sciatica: Arch & Flatten, Arch & Curl, the Side Bend, the Washrag.