Most people have heard of sciatica, even if they haven’t experienced it. In fact, approximately 40% of adults in the United States have or have had sciatica. Tai Chi and Qigong have been gaining popularity as a means of relieving a variety of health issues, including sciatica.
What is sciatica?
The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body. It runs from the lower back to the buttocks/glutes, down the legs, to the feet. This nerve is very sensitive and any pressure on it can cause pain and/or discomfort for people of all ages. The most common causes of sciatica are nerve compression, irritation, and/or the pinching of a nerve root in the spinal column. People often feel sciatica on only one side of the body but it can affect both legs. It can also affect the the back. Some describe the sensation as numbness or tingling. Others refer to muscular weakness. There may be difficulty moving or controlling the leg. In some cases, people experience the feeling of electrical pulses, and/or sharp or severe pain along the sciatic nerve.
How can Tai Chi and Qi Gong help?
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) blockages or stagnation of Qi energy are the cause of pain and illness in the body. In Tai Chi and Qi Gong, energy pathways are opened, and blockages are reduced and/or eliminated. In addition, sciatica symptoms are reduced by relaxing and improving blood flow to affected areas. These are likely be in the lower back, buttocks, and legs. Both Qigong and Tai Chi exercises strengthen back muscles and involve a large degree of movement in these areas. The gentle, relaxed, circular movements gently open the joints and stretch the muscles. This reduces compression on the nerve roots and relieves sciatic pain.
Above all, practitioners learn to be more aware of how to move and rest in a properly aligned manner. This means that regular practice helps to realign the vertebrae, which in turn reduces pressure on the spine. Training the body to avoid slouching results in better spinal alignment. This reduces stress on the spine and, consequently, the pain caused by poor alignment. In other words, Tai Chi and Qigong movements strengthen the muscles around the spine, including the abdominals and hamstrings. The result is that they also become more flexible. This also improves posture and reduces back pain.
There are many styles and forms of Tai Chi and Qigong. They all stimulate the natural energy forces in the body, which aids the body in healing itself. Focused and rhythmical breathing encourages a relaxed body and strong, improved circulation. The meditative state of mind dissipates stress and anxiety. These can often be a factor in causing many forms of back pain, or making it worse.
Movements should be slow, flowing, and deliberate. There should be no jarring motions, bouncing, or excessive twisting. These would negatively impact on the spine.
Anyone with serious back pain, sprain, or a slipped or bulging disc should speak to a medical professional before taking up Tai Chi or Qi Gong. However, both practices can play an important part in improving low back and sciatic nerve problems. They may also prevent future issues!