Ah yes, that lovely Rolling Stones song. Next up, the Beatles “When I’m 64.”
The past couple of weeks have left me feeling like a creaky middle-aged woman. (Okay, so I am middle-aged according to some statistics but I don’t like the “creaky” qualifier.) Normally I’m an upbeat positive person. A recently published study even showed that positive, happy women have better health that our cranky counterparts. (I wonder if you can be both?)
What I’m getting at is a literal pain in the a**; the sciatic nerve, the largest nerve in our body that courses from your lower back, through your butt, and down your leg. My sciatic nerve introduced itself to me back in the 90’s when I worked as a Speech-language pathologist at a rehabilitation center. I remember feeling a twinge on my right side. The physical therapist gave me some stretches for my right glute and IT band. I figured the twinge was due to all the years of lugging around therapy materials in a bag slung over my left shoulder which in turn caused my right hip to stick out further to the right. (You’ve seen this posture on any woman lugging a large purse or satchel over her left shoulder. It looks kind of like a distorted S.)
Flash forward several years to late 2003 and early 2004. I’m now having a vise grip like pain in my right glute, the back of my thigh, around my calf, and, for good measure, tingling in my foot. These pains don’t happen all at once all the time. They can be selective and zap you in two out of the four locations. Sometimes they happen while I’m walking. Sometimes when I’m standing. But by late 2003 it is getting really uncomfortable to stand for any length of time; sitting helps but even then the pain sometimes persists.
Our yoga teacher at the time recommended a local chiropractor. Now chiropractic services was not something I was crazy about. I remember the negative attitude expressed by some physical therapists at the mere mention of a chiropractor. I was a little skeptical but also realized I needed to do something. So I scheduled an appointment.
At this appointment I learned that my sacroiliac (SI) joint was twisted. It was literally twisting back and down and impinging on the sciatic nerve. Just writing that makes me feel sore! But that first adjustment was like a miracle. I walked out of the doctor’s office pain free. I was amazed. I came home and slept for at least a half hour. The stress I was carrying in my body had been released and I finally allowed my body to relax.
I was put on a program of weekly visits that turned to every other week and eventually progressed to treatments as needed. Cool; this seemed to be working.
But now that pain is back. The reality is it never truly went away. An adjustment here and there was beneficial to relieve the pain temporarily. But after some time the SI joint would twist again and the pain would return. In the last couple of months I’ve had pain not only on my right side (the original spot) but also on my left side. It might be there when I walk, run, sit for too long or sleep on my side. I’ve stopped going to yoga out of a real or imagined fear that deep twists might throw the joint out of whack. I use a “knee pillow” at night to keep my hips level. Can traction be far behind?
You know how sometimes your body pokes and yells at you until you really, truly listen? I believe that time has come.
For several months I’ve been trying to figure out what is really going on here. I believe the SI joint is twisting. I can feel a difference in the level or height of my hips when I lay flat. One side is definitely lower or back further than the other side. But what is causing the joint to twist? This must be more than simple “weakness.”
I decided to refer to a book I bought a while back, “Muscular Retraining for Pain Free Living” by Craig Williamson. Mr. Williamson is an Occupational Therapist and developed a form of therapy called Somatic Integration. Mr. Williamson believes, and I agree, that we often develop ingrained, dysfunctional patterns of muscle use. We might hold one side of our body tight when walking due to past trauma. A musician might contract a muscle when playing which in turn causes pain over a period of time. How many of us sit at the computer and develop neck pain because of the way we hold our heads and tighten our neck muscles?
The problem is we’re usually not even aware we’re doing this with our bodies. The key is to become aware of our bodies, of the kinesthetic movement, and to teach our muscles the proper way to move. In essence, we need to learn new movements (the correct ones) which will help the muscles relax and decrease or eliminate the pain.
A potential disadvantage to this approach? If you’ve been moving incorrectly for a long time, it is going to take some time to retrain the muscle.
I had a chiropractor appointment on Tuesday. Today I started reading Mr. Williamson’s book and tried out a few exploratory exercises. Just practicing how to walk in a relaxed manner, feet and ankles soft, heel to toe, and really feeling the ground relieved some of the minor muscle tension I was feeling.
So perhaps I am getting old and creaky (or is that cranky?), but if I can retrain my muscles out of a few bad habits, getting older won’t feel so bad.
If you’ve had similar experiences with a twisting SI joint or sciatica I’d love to hear how you’ve dealt with it.
Please note that I’m not negating the services of a chiropractor. I believe alternative forms of treatment are indeed beneficial and should be used in conjunction with traditional medical practice. What I do think is essential in any practice is that we treat not only symptoms but causes as well.