Sciatica: Low Back Problem or Butt Problem

There is an epidemic happening in offices everywhere! There is a large number of people complaining of low back pain that radiates or spreads down to their foot. When a person suffers from such ailments, they automatically assume that they have sciatica. Hmmm… that may not be entirely true.

The radiating pain that you experience may indeed involve the sciatic nerve, but that may not mean that you have true sciatica.

TRUE SCIATICA

The sciatic nerve originates from the lumbar (specifically the third lumbar vertebra). When the 3rd lumber vertebra or L3 has a problem with its disc, it may pinch, impinge, or squeeze the sciatic nerve. This causes a low back pain and a radiating pain down the leg to the top of the foot as it is the direction the that nerve travels. When the problem arises from L3, it is sciatica. This problem can be caused by trauma, inflammation or something hereditary. This is a much harder problem to solve.

PIRIFORMIS SYNDROME

The epidemic, that is arising in offices everywhere, is the piriformis syndrome. I have said this many times before and I still believe it: the human body is the most efficient and smartest machine. The body knows when to regulate temperature and defends the body against bacteria and viruses. But as great as this machine is, it has a big flaw: the sciatic nerve is sandwiched between two muscles in the buttocks. These two muscles are the gluteus and pirifomis. When these two muscles get tight or spasm, they squeeze the poor sciatic nerve causing pain to radiate up the low back and down the leg (depending on severity). And one of the causes for piriformis syndrome is sitting too long at an office desk.

Office workers tend to suffer a lot from “sciatica.” This isn’t surprising. You sit staring at a computer screen all day long and because you have a deadline to meet you stay staring at your computer screen when you should stand. You are sometimes so immersed that you skip lunch, forget to pee and some of you hardcore driven office workers purposely deprive yourself of liquids so you wouldn’t have to pee. And so, you remain sitting for almost most of the 8 hours you are there to work. This causes weakening of the muscles all over the body which causes tightening of muscles, which then leads to pain.

Side note: tight muscles does not mean that the muscles are strong. It most often times means that it is so weak that it is in a constant state of contraction because if it relaxes it may not be able to support you.

The muscles that are getting especially weak are the muscles in the buttocks. It’s getting pancaked and weakened by the rest of your body weight. And after all that sitting, you stand, activating weak and lazy muscles. This can cause sudden tightening and spasms. Think of it this way. If you haven’t been weight lifting awhile (or ever) and a person suddenly tells you to lift 50 lbs off the ground, you would protest, too. And when the muscles in the butt protest, they tighten around the poor sciatic nerve and then BAM —>HELLO, PAIN!

STRENGTHEN AND STRETCH

Go back to basics. The best way to prevent piriformis syndrome is to  regularly stand and walk around every hour. During this time try doing some exercises that help strengthen the muscles in the butt. Exercises that help are squats and lunges. Go to this link for simple variations and instructions on how to do these exercises.

Stretching is also great at preventing tight muscles in the glutes. Go to this video to learn a quick stretch that you can do at work.

ACUPUNCTURE TREATMENTS

When the pain is unmanageable, getting acupuncture for your sciatica or piriformis syndrome is great. My patients have reports immense relief from acupuncture treatments.

Treatments differ from patient to patient and from acupuncturist to acupuncturist. But whatever the treatment, acupuncture bring great relief to patients suffering from sciatica. The reason for this is because underlying all of these treatments is a similar protocol and base. The acupuncturist is either trying to fortify the area or trying to move blood and qi to move the pain out of the site.

To have a better understanding as to how acupuncture works, please read this article.

Graceful Points

Slow Cooker Detox Stew

Mung beans are used throughout Asia as a great detoxing food. For instance, India has their kitchari, which is used as a way to cleanse and detox the body without starving. In Vietnam, a mung bean dessert is given at the end of a meal to help cleanse and cool the body from the meal. In China, mung beans are used to cool the body from the heat of summer. In other parts of the world, mung bean broths are drunk as a way to detox the body after a night out or a weekend of indulgence. In summary, mung beans rock!

I would like to share a simple mung bean recipe that I like to use when I feel the need to give my body an extra push. It can even be used as a hangover remedy.

Mung Bean Stew
1 cup mung beans
2 cups chicken broth (use vegetable broth to make it vegan)
2 cups water
2 cups mixed vegetables
1/2 onion
4 cloves garlic (crushed/minced)
salt and pepper to taste

Wash mung beans and add to boiling water.
Cook mung beans for about 30 minutes and then add all other ingredients except for salt and pepper. Bring to boil then simmer for another 30 minutes or until mung beans are fully cooked. Add salt and pepper to desired taste.

Slow Cooker Method: Throw all ingredients into the slow cooker except for the seasoning (salt slows down the cooking process of beans) and cook on high or until the beans are tender for about 3-4 hours. Season to taste.

Option: Cumin, turmeric and basil are also good for seasoning if so desired.

Other than it’s wonderful detoxing and cleansing affects, it is full of protein and can be modified to anybody’s taste preference.

Graceful Points

A Few Easy Tips to Manage Stress

When I was suffering from excruciating pain and the doctors couldn’t find what was wrong with me, they chalked up to my being stressed and told me to stop stressing. But unfortunately, that is easier said than done. If I could stop stressing, I would. I don’t know anybody who wakes up and says, “Hmmm… I can’t wait to get stressed out today. Yay!” Nobody that I know.

Also, how does one escape stress. Stress is an everyday occurrence. You stress when you’re in traffic. You stress when your alarm doesn’t go off. You stress when your child gets sick. I can go on and on. So although not stressing is a wonderful way of curing many ailments, it’s not an option.

What is an option, is learning how to manage it. How you react to everyday stressors make a big difference from being ill to being healthy (mentally, spiritually, physically). Below is a list of simple things that you can do to help manage your stress.

  1. Breathe!
    1. Most people do not breathe properly. If you catch yourself sighing a lot, you may need to learn to breathe deeper and more effectively. Click here to learn how to breathe.
  2. Exercise
    1. Seems difficult but I’m not telling you to do crossfit or run a marathon. Exercise can be as simple as walking everyday, jumping on a trampoline (great for lymph detox), and playing with you Xbox Kinect.
    2. Find a physical activity that you enjoy and do it regularly.
    3. Endorphins are the happy hormones!
  3. Laugh
    1. Laughter is a cure for almost anything
    2. Find a movie that makes you laugh every time.
    3. Hold a pencil between your teeth
      1. This makes the muscles in your face mimic the same muscle movements as smiling. Studies have shown that this can trick the brain into thinking that you are happy and releases happy hormones that will eventually make it true.
    4. Be sure to surround yourself with those who make you laugh
  4. Eat GABA rich foods
    1. GABA is an amino acid that calms the nervous system down
    2. It will decrease your chances of being “wired”
    3. GABA rich foods are almonds, halibut, walnuts, mackerel, oats, walnuts, rice bran, any fermented foods (sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir,etc.)
  5. Get acupuncture 🙂

Graceful Points

Remembering 9/11

Where were you when the twin towers were struck on 9/11/2001?

I was 18. I turned on the morning news like I always did before going to school. What I saw was like a scene from an action movie. But it wasn’t. It was real. It was happening.

I sat on my sofa with absolute disbelief. I drove to school still in shock. When I went into class, our professor decided to share words of his grief for the people of New York and our nation. He told us to be prepared for what may come. He warned us of the effects of fear and what it can do to a nation and its people.

I joined the military a year later.

I was not personally affected by 9/11. I didn’t lose anybody. But I did lose my confidence in the safety of our country. I was no longer naive. I was made aware that bad things happen when you don’t expect it. I always also very angry that the terrible act of a few can affect so many.

When such events occur that evoke so many emotions from us, the mind and body feels shaken. Shock takes a toll. And memories of such events can bring about physical symptoms in us that remind us of how we felt that day.

Take today to remember our lost and our fallen. Take today to remember the day we stood united against terror. Take today to grieve. Take today to pray for those who are still devastated. Take today to pray for those who are still fighting.

PTSD and Acupuncture

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition triggered by experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. This traumatic event can damage the mind and body because it shook the foundations of the very soul. Unfortunately, there is not much that western medicine can offer to help those suffering from PTSD except give them anti-depressants. But did you know that anti-depressants have many side-effects, some of which can render a person completely numb and devoid of feelings and in worse case scenarios more depression (prozac, zoloft, risperdal, lamictal, valium)? After all they have been through, do we want such sufferers to go on barely existing?

And yes, PTSD sufferers are offered psychotherapy as a mode of treatment. But there is a flaw to this. Though there are PTSD patients ranging from all demographics, most are known to be soldiers. The military culture does not promote soldiers to get psychotherapy or any other such help. It would be perceived as a weakness. Veterans of older generations (Vietnam War, Korean War) do not help this view of weakness either because they criticize the Iraq War veterans for being “pansies” and “whiners” or because they believe that they had it harder than the younger generation. With this constant backlash from fellow soldiers and veterans, how is offering psychotherapy going to help a soldier in need? They already have difficulty admitting that they have PTSD, let alone admitting that they need help for it.

PTSD is a symptom of soldiers continuing to be soldiers. They may not be at war but they continue to fight a war within. We must also recognize that each soldier’s trauma stems from different events and must not be compared with others.

“It f**kin’ pisses me off when I hear other guys [Army soldiers] comparing their time in Iraq with mine. They act like they know me when they don’t know sh*t.” -Army Iraq War Veteran

In the above quote, the veteran was explaining to me how frustrated he was that those who had been safely ensconced in the back during the war, dared to compare their experiences of Iraq when he had been in the front line watching his brothers die. Though it may not be a fair on his part to compare his time with the others, but this is the typical feeling amongst most soldiers. They feel angry and withdrawn all the time. Their good and bad days come erratically like waves crashing against the rocks. Some withdraw into themselves feeling guilty (sometimes because they killed someone or because they survived and their fellow soldier didn’t). Some overly boast about their conquests. Some are just plain angry. However they deal with it, the root of the cause is the same: war was traumatic.

So how do you treat these proud soldiers who need help? The answer comes in the form of ear acupuncture. Ear acupuncture is very effective at calming the nervous system down thus relieving stress and pain. An added benefit is that there are few needles and because they are in the ear, patients cannot see them, which reduces any chance of adding to their trauma. The other benefit of ear acupuncture for PTSD is that it does not require the soldier to have to talk about their feelings. They can chooses to speak about their experiences or they can merely sit or lie there with the needles for 30 meditative minutes. One soldier I treated told me that it was the first time in a long time that they had ever felt so calm since being in the service. It helped them to let go.

If you or anybody you know needs treatment for PTSD or you are curious about it, please contact me at 562-473-5371 and ask for Grace.

Graceful Points