Ok, lets just start with the doom and gloom of sciatica and the physical and very real reality of what it can be, it’s a truly horrible thing to be lying in bed when you’re tired and really ready to relax and drift off to sleep to be lying there with this ache and different levels of throbbing nerve pain, this nerve pain can go from your buttocks, be affecting your legs and right down to your feet. It’s annoying, it nags at you and it’s screaming to you ‘please help me’, please do something about this. But you’re really not necessarily sure of what to do. Some people get stabbing pains, shooting pains and even burning pains. On the NHS website it says: ‘sciatica is when the sciatic nerve, which runs from your hips to your feet, is irritated.’ The good news is you can do something about this. You can get your life back.
I remember flying to Hawaii one time and I’d fallen asleep on one of the flights and I woke up in absolute agony, but the initial thing I remembered was, OH MY GOD, I cannot feel my left leg or foot at all, it had what seemed like it had gone completely numb, it was a terrifying moment which luckily only lasted up to five minutes at the time, I gradually moved and wiggled my fingers toes and tapped my foot on the plane floor and gradually I could stand up again and move around. The residue was not fun, but at least I could walk and move around. Sitting and falling asleep in that position sitting up was a truly horrific thing and had brought on a very severe case of sciatica. Not surprising that discs in the lumbar spine had prolapsed. On the return from Hawaii I upgraded and my goodness it helped flying business class able to lie down during the flight. Luckily many years previously to this I had qualified and been teaching Pilates so I used the Pilates to help the best I could and saw the GP, consultant and practitioner on my return.
It was a palava, negative time of MRI scans, lots of worry about the pain and eventually had some spinal injections, there was an initial relief for a day of feeling completely numb in that area which actually felt very welcome to not feel that pain, however it didn’t seem to make much difference at all. What really made the difference was committing to daily Pilates, incorporating it into my lifestyle and seeing a really good practitioner (Physio, osteopath or good chiropractor). Having that support with your body and alignment can be an incredible investment and taking a holistic approach is really helpful. You do need to take care of yourself at times like this and also to look at what’s going on in your life too, especially your stress levels as they can be linked.
Roll on another ten years of teaching and I’ve found it very interested how Pilates can be recommended as being good for the back. Yes it can be very good for the back if it’s taught properly, you’re corrected during your class or one to one, but more than anything it’s ESSENTIAL that you’re doing the RIGHT exercises for you and your body. There are particular exercises in Pilates which are so brilliant to help you re-habilitate after having sciatica, but equally there are many Pilates exercises which won’t do you any good at all and in fact can make it worse. One of the biggest keys is to avoid the extreme bending exercises such as the roll up (pilates sit ups) and more advanced exercises such as the rollover. (Extreme bending)
Some people blindly think that doing any Pilates is good. NO. Equally it isn’t a guaranteed cure. doing the best Pilates exercises may help reduce or alleviate your symptoms. The thing is the exercises given in Pilates are sometimes the same as given by many good Physios, osteopaths and chiropractors. However one of the biggest keys with that is learning how to use all of the Pilates principles with this, especially the relaxation and breathing, this helps SO much.
Another key in your recovering is learning to listen to your body and to do the exercise or stretch at a level that is COMFORTABLE for you. You are individual and how much you move will vary from the next person and also there are many levels for example that I teach in your recovery and many levels of each stretch or exercise. So in conclusion with this. Learn from a teacher or practitioner who you trust, is qualified, has experience and knows what they are talking about!
You also need to know how to engage your deep abdominals to support your back without tensing your back or shoulders. When you can successfully breathe and relax with your exercises this makes such a difference. Learning with a teacher will help you gain confidence that you are doing it properly and you can keep improving. Learning five minute relaxations can also really help you calm and relax your muscles, mind and in my opinion massively help in your recovery. And thereafter it’s just such a valuable thing to do as Pilates and relaxation can help you de-stress, keep you relaxed and happier too which is truly a wonderful thing. It defiantly helps peoples mental and emotional wellbeing too, it certainly does for me.
Now the next key to unlock this is to know what your GOALS are? What QUALITY OF LIFE do you want to get back. What would you like to be able to do again? Focus on this and really enjoy your Pilates journey on your way. If you want to be able to walk easily again, ride a motorbike and go back to the gym then you have to put the work in. You’ll have lost confidence in your back so it’s also about mindset too, as you do the right exercises, your back will strengthen without a doubt, your core stability and posture will improve, your confidence will SOAR, you’ll be able to relax more easily, you’ll know how to confidently practice the right exercises at home if you have proper tailored one to ones or lessons and also most importantly incorporate Pilates into your daily lifestyle.
One thing that can really aggravate the back and sciatica is sitting for too long at your desk, driving for too long, especially if you slump. Slumping with your back all bent will put more pressure on your discs inbetween each vertebrae and put more pressure on the sciatic nerve, a no no. Crossing your legs too often isn’t ideal either. So sit or stand as much as possible with your bottom at the back of the chair with your spine in it’s natural curve, feet hip width apart, I like using a cushion behind my back, some chairs have good lumbar, low back support so that’s useful. Often setting an alarm to ensure you have regular breaks to move around, stretch, go for a walk is hugely beneficial.
I found earlier this year that I had an increase in nerve pain from driving a manual car sitting in long traffic jams on the way back from the school run in the morning, extending your leg from the sitting position is not an ideal thing to do at all, especially repetitively doing this in heavy traffic. Fortunately found a solution for this so now I only have a short school run in the morning and drop my son off at a bus stop so that both he can easily get to school and I look after my back. I often get people looking at me strangely when I say I love travelling on the train and I don’t drive long distances. Why? Because it hurts my back and increases nerve pain. NO THANK YOU. Yes please to happy journeys on the train, I get to move around more, I can relax, read, meditate, work, have fun with my son etc and walking between stations is a good thing. Yes journeys might take longer, but I arrive more refreshed and with a happy back. Win win. Have you ever thought about what’s good for you travel wise?
The other thing that was aggravating nerve symptoms this year for me was demonstrating certain advanced matwork exercises. Many advanced Pilates matwork exercises are not for me and that’s the truth. Yet many are safe to do from a back care perspective if you have built up the strength for them, you have to know the difference. And you know what? As soon as I eradicated them from my teaching, the symptoms dropped right down and really practicing what I teach twice a day really makes a huge difference. Do I have a perfect back? No. Have I got my quality of life back? The answer is a big, fat and huge YES.
I get to live in my favourite place in the world, Dorset, go for relaxing walks by the sea, swim, cycle to work to help clients with their backs and bodies, I’m fit enough to stand up paddleboard and do paddleboard Pilates and I even go for an occasional run. I do my daily Pilates for the back programme and it makes a huge difference.
Are there things I can’t do? Yes there are, but I choose to think of all those wonderful things above that I LOVE and can do, and that I am truly grateful for. What quality of life would you love back? What quality of life to you love & appreciate already?
But I just wanted to show you a few of the best to get a feel of how you can gradually get your quality of life back with Pilates. Because you can, it may be a new quality of life, but each day, each week, each month and each decade your can get fitter and happier with Pilates.
Hope this blog post helps a lot,
lots of love