When it comes to sciatica, there’s a lot I can tell you about what not to do... because for a while I was doing a lot of things I shouldn’t have been doing. This is a great example of “Do as the health advocate says, not as she does!” Here are some of the bad habits I had to break:
Bad Habit: Sitting too much
I spend a lot of time sitting at my desk and my hard desk chair didn’t help my sciatica at all. I also think as we get older we lose some of our natural “seat” padding which puts even more pressure on the nerves in the buttocks.
What Helps: One of the things I found that really helps is a seat cushion called the Airhawk Pro. It’s made up little balls of air, so it makes you sit level and cushions your buttocks. I keep it on my desk chair and it really helps. http://www.therohostore.com/Products/AIRHAWK-Pro-Standard-Truck-Seat-Cushion-System__AHTRUCKSTD.aspx
Of course, all that sitting also means my muscles tighten up, especially if I’m stressed. So I’ve also found that exercise helps loosen things up when I do sit too long. Yoga really works for me. I go to yoga class 2 to 3 times a week. And another big advantage is that I’ve learned some stretches I can do at home that when my sciatica starts to flare up.
Bad Habit: Crossing my legs
As women, we’re taught to sit in a “lady-like” position, which means a lot of us are in the habit of crossing our legs. But an acupuncturist explained to me that according to Chinese medicine, crossing the legs cuts off the circulation in your legs, and also cuts off the energy flow. It also skews the body and puts more stress on one side than the other.
What Helps: This one is a no-brainer – don’t cross your legs! I’m not saying it’s easy, because it’s not. I’ll catch myself crossing my legs without thinking about it. But I really make an effort to keep both feet flat on the floor because it does improve the way I feel.
Bad Habit: Carrying a lot of weight
I travel a lot and that used to mean carrying a big bag with all my stuff in it. If I didn’t have the load on my shoulder, I was towing it behind me in a rolling briefcase. Either way, I was letting myself be pulled out of balance and adding stress to my nerves and muscles.
What Helps: I finally had to admit that there just isn’t a good way to cart around that much stuff. So I gave in and lighten the load. I don’t really need to carry around my entire desk plus the kitchen sink in my hand bag! Now I limit myself to what I really need when I travel.
Bad Habit: Trying to go through it on my own
We women sometimes think we have to do it all, or we just have to push through regardless of how we feel. When the doctors told me there was no physical impingement in my spine, they didn’t have a solution for my pain. So for a while I tried to ignore it and hoped it would go away.
What Helps: This is where being your own advocate really comes into play. The doctors couldn’t solve my pain, so I decided to research other options. I learned that acupuncture helps some people with sciatica, including me. I also figured out that deep tissue massage can give me some relief when I’m having a flare-up.
As a health advocate, I think it’s important to learn from other people’s experiences and their specialties. So when I had a chance to interview Dr. Suzanne Levine, who is one of America’s Top Podiatrists (that’s a foot doctor), I told her about my sciatica. She told me about a something new that’s being used for sciatica called infra-red or IR. She gave me a treatment on by buttocks and the bottom of my foot and it really helped. I could feel the warmth from the IR reaching the areas that give me the most trouble, which helped ease my sciatica pain. If I have the chance, I’ll definitely go back for another IR treatment or two.
The Bottom Line
I can’t guarantee that what works for me will work for you. If you have sciatica, you need to start with a visit to your doctor to rule out any physical impingements on the nerves in your spine that could cause more serious problems. Then, you need to listen to what your body is telling you and follow through to take control of your own health.