Definition: Sciatica

Sciatica is pain in the sciatic nerve, the largest nerve in the body, which travels through the pelvis and then branches out into each leg. Sciatic pain radiates into the buttock and the back of the thigh, sometimes being felt through the whole leg and foot. Sciatica can be quite disabling, particularly if it is accompanied by numbness and weakness through the limb, which can last for several weeks.

The main cause of sciatica is the prolapsing of an intervertebral disc, a slipped disc, which then presses on the nerve at the spinal root. Occasionally, this comes about through an organic problem such as a tumour pressing on the nerve, so it is important to consult a doctor. Alexander Teachers are not able to make a diagnosis, unless also trained as a doctor.

Fortunately, the more common causes of sciatica are factors such as muscle spasms, prolonged habits of mis-use, or accidents. For instance, the habit of standing mainly on one leg, which distorts the alignment of the pelvis and puts pressure on the lumbar region of the spine, can reult in compressing the sciatic nerve. These can contribute to the condition by distorting the spine in a way that creates a downward and often uneven compression of the discs, which then lose their ability to act as shock absorbers between the vertebrae. However it is possible in Alexander lessons, providing damage to the discs is not too great, to learn how to inhibit such mis-use and to move in a poised way, so that the spine is better aligned and more freely lengthening. In this way, pressure on the discs is reduced, so many people can learn how to free themselves from the pain associated with sciatica.

For an illustration of the sort of mis-use which may well contribute to sciatica, you can visit my Blog to see a sculpture by Francesco Massina.

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