Sciatica on flight UA1438

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As I’m flying to Maui to teach a class the person sitting next to me strikes up a conversation about what I’m working on (which is an outline for class and anatomical handouts). Thus our conversation turns to exercise and what constitutes proper exercise and what is not.

This is a common question and my response is “all exercises are good if your body can handle it”. But the important question to consider is “How do you tell if your body can handle it?”

Muscles. What do they do? They provide locomotion (movement) of the human structure along with stabilization (balance). More in depth locomotion is not possible without stabilization. Muscles are continuously recalibrating based on what other muscles are doing. As long as your muscles are cooperating than you will naturally create a more fluid movement in your body. However if the coordination is not balanced then the body has to compensate and joints become compressed, sheered, twisted, and strained in the process of that movement. The longer they are in this mode of compensation the more muscle memory they create into this movement pattern.

As I am writing this the man’s wife comes over with sciatic pains. She is experiencing a deep aching pain in her low back with nerve pain down her right leg (also a deep ache and electrical sensation). What’s happening to this woman is that her muscles are actually working against her. They have shifted to a coordination pattern that is breaking her body down by putting unnecessary joint stress on her spine. I suggested two simple exercises to do and more than 60% of her pain abated. How? Just this small stimulus allowed the body to return closer to a more aligned position away from the torqued, compressed, and sheared joints. Why not 100% relief? Because her muscle memory is still with the old coordination pattern. This over time can and will change with corrective exercises based on specific negative muscle patterns that her body has gotten into.

So how do you tell if your body can handle certain exercises? If you feel it in the joint(s) then muscles are not coordinating properly. However, if you feel it in the belly of your muscle when you exercise then it is good (also should be symmetrical). So any exercise is “good” as long as you don’t feel it in the joints later or while performing such exercise(s).

It is up to you to find your balance. Pay attention to your body before, during, and after the exercise class, video, gym workout, sport, or any activity that you do. This does not mean you can never do that exercise, class, or activity ever again. What it means is you need to progress your body back to a proper state of balance of muscle coordination and muscle memory.

Below are the exercises that I gave to the women on my flight. Try them out if you are experiencing any back pain and let us know what you think.

1. Sitting knee pillow squeezes

Sitting towards the edge of a chair, line up your knees so the are a hip width distance apart. Your ankles are directly under your IMG_5160knees so that your knees are a 90º angle. Roll you hips forward to so an arch appears in your lower lumber spine (low back). Place a rolled up towel, pillow, yoga block or even a water bottle between your knees. Squeeze and release the object 60 times making sure you keep you that arch in your low back the entire time. Keep the upper body as relaxed as you can and position your head and shoulders over your hip joint. Ideally the muscles that you will feel activate here will be in the groin area. This exercise will help reeducate your hip flexors (groin muscles) and spinal erectors (back muscles) to properly work together again.

2. Sitting elbow curls with pillowIMG_5161

Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 8.57.04 PMStaying in the same position that you were in before (sitting at the edge of chair, hips rolled forward to add that arch in the low back and knees at a 90º) squeeze the pillow or object between your knees and hold a constant pressure on it for the entire exercise. Now make a half fist with the thumbs out, bring this to your temples and face you palms away from you. This position brings your elbows into the position for elbow curls. Still squeezing the IMG_5167block or pillow and arching your back close your elbows together them bring them back away from each other. It looks kinda funny like you are flapping a pair of wings. Do this for 25 reps. This will re-engage your upper spine and coordinate it with the lower body to help stabilize your entire spine.




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