Healing the Sciatica and Lower Back with Eefa Shrof

What is sciatica? What is its function in the body? What makes and breaks our lower back? What effects do our daily postures have on our back? Fitness Lifestyle Consultant Eefa Shroff answers all these questions and also gives tips to correct the posture for a strong lower back.

Why is sciatica so common in today’s generation?
Sciatica is more common in our generation…way more than it was in earlier generations. There are two reasons:

Bad posture – I don’t think we’ve been taught to hold our body in the upright posture. I think it’s fashionable to hold your body in a way that makes it look good on the camera and makes you feel cool. But the truth is that your spine is over stressed. Your spinal muscles are getting overstretched which they shouldn’t. They should be kept in a contracted position and when I say contracted I don’t mean scrunched up, what I mean is that the muscles shouldn’t be doing the work that they are doing. We’re overstretching them and leaving our bodies in ways that they shouldn’t be left in.

Stress – Not that the previous generations didn’t have stress but the values back then enabled people to handle stress in a more balanced way which our generation has forgotten.

What is sciatica? Is it chronic and can it be reversed?
We’ve spoken about sciatica wrongly because Sciatica is a nerve that extends from the lower back and goes into both the legs. It wraps around the big bone and the thigh, the femur and the shin and it supplies blood to both the lower extremities which are the legs. Because of bad posture or injury the sciatica in the back gets slightly depressed or if you have a disc protrusion it starts touching the sciatica and that’s what starts sending shockwaves through the legs or what you might experience as pain at different points. So calling this problem sciatica is actually wrong. The nerve in the back is getting pressed and you feel pain at all the points it co-relates to.

Is it reversible? 100 per cent. It needs exercise and correct nutrition so that healing process is supported and the time spent in healing is less than what it might’ve been. It can be chronic which means it can reoccur and that’s why you need to go into the problem. Sciatica is not the problem. The problem is the way you’re holding your lower back, the way the bone and the disc are compressing into sciatica is the problem. So taking drugs to relieve the pain is absolutely fine but look at the problem which is in the lower back even though it’s not where you are feeling it.

What’s the function of spine and lower back?
Everything! Technically the function is to hold the body upright. It connects the lower extremities to upper extremities. The basic function connected to sciatica is that the spine is allowing the body to bend forward, bend backwards, bend sideways and twist and that’s all coming from the area that we call our lower back. So if you’re holding yourself in a position that isn’t really allowing the body to do that, the body will morph itself and overcompensate by using a different muscle cause you’re not letting it use the dormant muscle.

What’s the difference between sciatica, disc protrusion and slip disc?
So like I said earlier, sciatica is a nerve that wraps around our spine and goes to the legs. We have bony vertebrates and between these vertebrates we have this spongy gel like cushion which is the disc. Now because of injury or wrong posture that disc comes out. When it just about comes out a teeny bit it’s called disc protrusion. Slip disc is when it slips out a little bit more.

How does one heal sciatica and lower back?
Build the muscle to support that area. Wake up the sleeping guys! Training is key which means learning to do basic movements with the right posture for example maintaining the lower back arch when bending forward. This is an extremely important thing and usually in 80 per cent cases this is the major reason for lower back problems. You have a natural arch which should be maintained. If the hamstrings are too tight you shouldn’t compromise on that arch to bend.

Second thing is bending backwards which people rarely do. Proper training is giving your body these movements – bending backwards maintaining extension of spinal muscles, bending forward maintaining contraction of lower back muscles, bending sideways without kind of falling and putting pressure on discs and vertebrae. Developing the oblique muscles and releasing them is very important. They run through the side of our torso. People with stiff lower backs don’t put their oblique through a lot of movement. Oblique are meant to rotate the torso in both directions. So doing twisting movement with corrected lower back and spinal curvature is very important. That’s as far as training is concerned and you should have a trainer till you learn all the movements.

Nutrition is key. Your diet shouldn’t have anything inflammable. Whenever you are trying to heal an injury the blood rushes to that area which results in a lot of inflammation. Having a diet at that time that’ll calm the inflammation is very important. You also need decent amount of proteins. I am not saying to go have shakes but just make sure that your meals are balanced with proper protein which goes through the cells into the muscles and help that muscle, cartilage, ligament to rebuild. If you don’t give it raw material the muscles won’t build. So have ots of protein with ample anti-oxidants.

I also believe that sometimes when your back goes out of action it forces you to sit back and look at life. It forces you to look at issues that you haven’t been paying attention to. I’ve gone through a lot of injuries where I’ve slipped my neck and my disc and when that happens you can’t do much. Even lying down is painful. So what it does is it forces us to look at areas of our lives and take actions where we’ve just been procrastinating. So I call it looking at tissues and issues. What’s eating you and what are you eating. I believe that when you deal with those issues your body starts healing.

Tips to correct the posture in daily life
Simply speaking I always take example of two types of trees – the big rainforest tree which is tall and straight and stays for centuries and the banyan tree which also lasts for centuries but spreads out and has its roots all over. It doesn’t grow as tall as the rainforest tree. The rainforest tree is a great example to learn from. We’re living on planet earth and gravity is building on us all the time. Gravity is like heavy rain that’s falling straight down on us. So if you’re not upright, if you’re even off by half a centimetre the rain will start crushing you down and put a lot of pressure on the little joints that we call vertebrae or spine. If you’re like the rainforest tree, upright, then you can use that gravity to grow taller and stronger. When you’re sitting notice if your ears are in line with your shoulders, your shoulders are in line with your hips and when you’re standing your hips are in line with your ankles.

Another great example is I train people putting them against a wall. That kind of forces your brain to build these new neural connections of being upright. Where’s my wall. I keep asking this question. If I have an imaginary wall behind me is the back of my head, back of my shoulder blades, back of my glutes and back of my heels touching that wall. If it’s not and if I am forward or backward, how do I bring myself back in alignment? And have this sense of rooting down and an energy going upwards. The body knows how to do it; you have to just listen to it. So stand straight, walk straight, sit straight, keep moving around and sleep in position. Be very careful when you’re sleeping because that’s when bad posture will show up.

How does one combine yoga, cardio and weight training to cure the sciatica problem?
You need to go to somebody qualified. All are equally important. Cardio will give you mobility and the ability to burn off fat which is very important when you’re healing especially from tissues that’ll put you flat out on bed for two weeks. When you get back you need to get moving really fast. Weight training is very crucial cause that’s going to help build muscles. But there’s a time and place for both. You can’t just get out of bed and start training. Yoga is important to learn to extend the muscles while you do different tasks of bending forward, backward, sideways and breathing.

Mind over matter
An important aspect of healing is knowing where you want to go with it. I had really bad injuries from my accident and in my 20s I was told that I will be on wheelchair in my 30s. Today at 43 I can do more things with my legs that most people half my age can’t. I would give a lot of credit of that to being clear in my mind about what I wanted. People will tell you all sorts of things. Doctors will say surgery, physiotherapist will say physio, yoga teacher will say yoga, and nutritionist will say nutrition. But you have to be very clear in your mind about what you want to do with this. Do you want to use it as an excuse to not doing anything or do you want to use it as a reason to look at things differently. Know what you want, make up your mind and then go for it.

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