Sciatica - Overcoming the Pain
Sciatica refers to pain that begins in the hip and buttocks and continues all the way down the leg. This condition is often accompanied by low back pain, which can be more or less severe than the leg pain. The term "sciatica" indicates that the sciatic nerve, which travels from the lower back through the buttocks and into the leg, is thought to be the cause of the pain in this condition. True sciatica is a condition that occurs when a herniated lumbar disc compresses one of the contributing roots of the sciatic nerve. This type of low back pain is less common than other causes and conditions that produce back pain. For instance, sporting activities, recreational activities, and heavy labor can cause back and leg pain, which is commonly misdiagnosed as sciatica. The challenge for a physician is to distinguish between radicular pain, which is caused by an inflamed nerve root, and referred pain, which is a result of a musculoskeletal sprain or strain
Several years ago I injured my hamstring on an abductor machine at the gym. I was doing a lot of dance classes at the time and kept reinjuring it. Hamstring injuries take a long time to heal. I was also in a deep clinical depression after the death of my father. One night I received a phone call that precipitated a profound emotional trauma. The next day I awoke with severe sciatica, but my depression had suddenly lifted. The body/mind connection is a mysterious thing.
My sciatica manifested as a burning pain that started in my left buttock, continued down my thigh, and radiated out at the calf. I lost full range of motion and could not bend forward more than half way when my legs were locked. Sciatica is a nerve pain, not a muscular ache, so one cannot massage it and make it feel better—it gets worse if one remains sedentary but movement may aggravate it as well. Often pain killers become the only relief but I don’t take pain killers due to an allergic sensitivity. I was in agony, and it seemed to be the worst at night so I couldn’t sleep either—it felt like being tortured with an electrical charge.
I did Bikram Yoga in my early twenties in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with Rod Masterson, a Marine drill sergeant who had worked as an actor in Los Angeles and learned yoga from Bikram. Shortly before I developed sciatica I had met a man at a party and he told me about this hot yoga he did and suddenly I remembered how happy I was when I had practiced Bikram yoga.
When I first returned to Bikram Yoga I had to keep my knees bent on all the forward bends and I had to lean my arm against my leg in triangle on the side with the sciatica. But slowly my pain began to subside and within three months of practicing 5 to 6 times per week my sciatica was fully in remission. To deepen my understanding of Bikram Yoga I took the Bikram Yoga Teacher Training in the Fall Session of 2000. Emmy Cleaves, Bikram’s senior teacher and Principal at Bikram Yoga College and a woman of great knowledge and wisdom, suggested that I read John Sarno’s book on healing back pain. His work helped explain the mind/body connection and the integral part that psychological tension plays in back pain.
Now when I am under a lot of emotional stress I do get bouts of sciatica but nothing like before. I also have to be very conscious in the postures to keep my core muscles engaged and my standing knee locked or else I may pull my back. Bikram Yoga gives a reprieve from the injury but the damage has already been done to my body, so I need the yoga to maintain a healthy, pain-free existence.