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Can shiatsu help sciatica?

The first in my short blogs on shiatsu and how it can help relief specific symptoms and today it's sciatica. An excrutiating symptom for a lot of sufferers who don't know how to resolve this, and end up turning to painkillers. Sciatica is miserable and can leave you unable to bend, lift, or sit and can even affect your walking. Today I'll step you through can shiatsu help sciatica from the view point of chinese medicine and the practicality of shiatsu an advanced acupressure therapy, and why it is so effective for a long term resolution.

Can shiatsu help sciatica?

Yes it can! With shiatsu you don't just get a treatment on the day you get holistic support for your back and pain relief throughout the month. Going for a regular treatment that only gives you a couple of days relief afterwards is pointless because they are not getting to the root cause of what your sciatica is. There can be so many reasons why the nerves are trapped and causing you grief that only the knowledge of chinese medicine can work through piecing this information together and then creating a solution to help you resolve the problem permanently.

Sciatica is the name given to any sort of pain that is caused by irritation or compression of the sciatic nerve; which leads to inflammation and heat. The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in your body. It runs from the back of your pelvis, through your buttocks, and all the way down both legs, ending at your feet. When something compresses or irritates the sciatic nerve, it can cause a pain that radiates out from your lower back and travels down your leg to your calf, or knee.

Chinese medicine and the meridians take this a step further and define two paths of sciatica - down the back middle of the leg (Bladder meridian) or down the side of your leg (Gallbladder meridian). Both have different causes which I'll look at later.

Why can shiatsu help relieve sciatica?

Shiatsu is based on the same theory as acupuncture, a knowledge that is around 5000 years old, the chinese worked out ways of resolving health issues without cutting open the body, understanding the power of the mind body link (their psychology is all wrapped up into physical health), they found that they could rebalance dis-ease by using needles (or finger pressure) to tap into the energy wells in the body and with gentle herbs to rebalance you when your Qi is out of kilter!

Shiatsu a Japanese form of acupressure has developed a deeper understanding of how the body connects and works. Understanding how the organs link to nerves and the central spinal column, and how emotions can affect and cause issues which show up in the spine.

Your sciatica maybe linked to an acute health condition that has been recognised by the medical profession (e.g. a compressed disc) or you've had a back muscle pull recently, an accident or lifestyle has led to sciatica being just there.

Sciatica is a chronic symptom that has usually been caused by something else, especially if it keeps reocurring. Shiatsu is a therapy to help release tight muscles, often held because of tension. Emotionally we carry so much tension all of the time, and one of the main times you may feel relief is when you're bogged down with a cold/virus as this can be one of the times of less tension in your body; as you don't have the energy to worry. Often your symptoms then return as the bug eases, if this is the case then this is a strong indicator that your symptoms are linked to tension and stress.

What can cause sciatica?

To sit and stand erect we need our muscles front and back to be in good shape and support your spine. A lot of the issues come from muscles being unsupported, weak, overstretched or tight. Your lifestyle plays into this especially if the day has been spent at the desk/ in a car, and then sudden bursts of exercise and DIY at the weekend. This can cause minor injuries very easily as muscles are suddenly doing an exercise they haven’t done in a while and without the muscles being warmed up.

The Lumbar vertebrae sit in a girdle of complex muscles, like the Quadratus Lumborum at the back (which when tight can affect us bending sideways), the Abdominals to the front, and running through the pelvis into your thighs at the front – The Hip Flexors or Psoas muscles. The Psoas is a chunky beast sat deeply into your pelvis attaching through your groin to thigh. It’s also a muscle that can become tightened and shorter with a lot of desk and driving time, releasing this when tight can be a major relief for lower back pain.

Weak abdominals can cause an extra strain on the back muscles, which can become tighter and minimise your flexibility. All the muscles work in pairs, doing equal and opposite actions, and this goes for one side being stronger then the other, or potentially tighter. When visiting with back or hip problems with a pain to one side, there is always a problem on the other side to resolve too. Muscles need to all be looked at to test their quality and tension. Pelvic twists are common place, wanting to sit or lie down crossed legged may indicate this. If your pelvic muscles are tight on one side then this could be causing your pinched nerves. It takes the first session to assess and realign all these muscles and check that you are feeling relief.

​In Chinese Medicine another really important aspect is how hot or cold muscles are. We can use our terms such as Qi (Chi) and energy, but if your muscles are not in good shape, they stop the Qi flowing and this can lead to muscles becoming cold and flat, the blood isn’t flowing freely and the pain you’ll experience will be more like a dull ache, or straining feelings when you stand up or twist. Think Frozen Shoulder but its happening in your lower back and hip regions.

Your muscles are looking for warmth and gentle touch to reset and release the affected ones, to encourage blood to flow freely again, for the body’s Qi to inhabit the tissues and bring those muscles back to health again.

How can shiatsu relieve sciatica?

Sciatica can be a lot to do with your muscles, whether they are tense or out of alignment. If you've been told your sciatica is due to bone overgrowth in the sacral foramen, still try shiatsu as you never know what relief can be found.

Though shiatsu is thought of as mainly acupressure, it actually involves a lot of listening to how the muscles are working and picking up where they are stuck, tight or weak. This is done with touch to the muscles, plus rotations, shaking and some stretching. Don't worry though if you do come in in pain, the first steps are to try and make you as comfortable as possible and help you find some relief quickly. It is best to then come back for another treatment within the fortnight once the inflammation has gone down to check on what the underlying cause is and to strengthen the new alignment of muscles, and release any tension that has built up again.

Shiatsu is based on the chinese meridians and this really helps in understanding the possible root causes of sciatica. As I mentioned earlier we have two branches of sciatica based on the Gallbladder and Bladder meridians. They run different paths through your lower back, pelvis, sacrum and down your legs, they also have different emotional connections.

If there is no physical reason for sciatica then with chinese medicine we look to an emotional trigger. The Gallbladder meridian sciatica could be caused by a bad twist, or tension due to holding in anger. The other type is Bladder meridian sciatica, this can be a crick in your back muscles, or maybe you're fearful of something that is yet to be dealt with. So many lower back issues can come from this.

It doesn't matter what has caused your sciatica as the way to relieve it is the same, however to stop sciatica coming back it is very beneficial to explore what is causing it as this can then lead to options in how to prevent it from happening again. That's the beauty of the chinese medicine understanding that the psychological and physical are absolutely entwined; and the health resolution takes this into account.

This doesn't mean a shiatsu becomes a psychotherapy session, not at all, you've come for a physical therapy and it's resolved that way but to understand the connection and talk about it if you wish can help you find the longer term resolution.

Shiatsu is very much about prevention, it's always best to come before an issue happens, but a lot of the time your first introduction to a therapy is because you have the pain and you're looking for relief. Shiatsu will look to get ahead of the problem to resolve it once and for all and help you maintain your physical health and flexibility if you are willing to invest in this!

Ready to relieve your sciatica with shiatsu?

Sciatica can be complex to resolve it completely, but this is what a shiatsu practitioner aims to do. If there is obvious reason then it's going to a blend of the emotional and physical and how you hold this in your body. Even with a diagnosis of your sciatica is due to this... don't feel that is the end, you can still seek energetic therapies like shiatsu to help you find some level of relief.

I always tell my clients it's good if nothing has shown up on tests, this means your issue is most likely still in the energetic realm, you can feel it but there isn't so much physical degradation that it's showing up on a scan. Let me re-iterate this is a good thing!

When clients first call me they can be quite despondent as they've been through everything the NHS has to offer with no resolution or pain relief apart from medication. Shiatsu aims to give you that relief and put your body back into alignment so that there is no pain, and to keep it that way.

This empowers you by putting your health back in your hands.

If you're in pain then don't put up with it any longer; check out how shiatsu can help you find relief.

About Andrea at Shiatsu Bodyworks Cheltenham

Andrea is a qualified zen shiatsu and chinese medicine practitioner with over 20 years immersed in holistic therapies and the energetics of mind and body. Based in Cheltenham, UK she offers in house clinic and online shiatsu sessions to help people with midlife health issues and also offers online consultations as she is a menopause specialist too.

Shiatsu Bodyworks: using finger pressure for body work,

to make your body work better!


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