How the Alexander Technique Relieved My Sciatica Pain

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Evelyn Hess has taught the Alexander Technique to chronic back and neck pain sufferers for 14 years, but it was her own journey with sciatica that led her to the therapy. Hess struggled with radiating leg pain for 6 years before discovering the Alexander Technique. Today, her sciatica is gone, but this specialized form of posture training continues to benefit her life.

SpineUniverse reached out to Hess to learn how the Alexander Technique improved her sciatica and changed her life.
Color illustration of healthy spine versus painful spine. Photo Credit: 123RF.com.The Alexander Technique has helped many people with chronic spinal disorders like sciatica regain their lives with less (or no) back pain. Photo Credit: 123RF.com.


SpineUniverse: When did your sciatica begin? Can you trace it back to an injury or event?

Hess: I was 28 years old. There was no incident—I never injured my back.

Several years before I developed sciatica, I had low back pain. Nothing severe, but I felt it whenever I stood or walked slowly for an hour or more. If I was at a mall or museum, for example, my back would bother me.

SpineUniverse: What were your initial symptoms, and did they worsen over time?

Hess: I experienced pain along the back of my right leg, from deep in my buttock down to just below the back of my upper calf. I never felt pain in my back, but the sciatic nerve is the exact path of the pain I had.

At first, the pain occurred every so often down the back of my leg to behind my knee. I couldn’t tell what caused it. After about 6 months, I noticed the pain spiked if I sat or stood for long periods of time, and the pain went down to my calf muscle. The pain would be more frequent, sometimes throb, and took a while to go away.

SpineUniverse: How did sciatica affect your life?

Hess: Before the pain, there were signs that something was wrong, but I didn’t realize it. I was a literature major in college, and I read novels lying down because sitting for more than 30 minutes was tiring, I was in my 20s, exercised racehorses, and surfed—I was in good shape, but I was a mess.

Once I got sciatica, I avoided standing for more than 20 minutes. I didn’t go to movies or plays because I couldn’t lie down or adjust my position. Long drives were miserable.

Increasingly, I didn’t have to “do” anything to have the pain—it became part of my daily life. Some days, I felt it a lot; some days were not so bad. But I couldn’t avoid it. I took as few over-the-counter painkillers as possible—only when the pain was really bad.

After a couple of years, pain was a part of my life. It was distracting, a presence that I was aware of even when I wasn’t in pain. In retrospect, I realize that it had taken over my life.

SpineUniverse: When did you seek medical attention? What types of doctors or practitioners were involved in your care?

Hess: After several months, I asked a medical doctor about it, and got x-rays of my hip and upper leg, which showed nothing. Another doctor recommended back strengthening exercises. Because I didn’t have back pain, some doctors didn’t think it was sciatica (though my pain followed the path of the sciatic nerve). After 3 years of near constant pain, I got a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan that also showed nothing.

SpineUniverse: What types of treatments did you explore before trying the Alexander Technique? How did you respond to those treatments?

Hess: I tried physical therapy twice, went to 2 chiropractors, did exercises per my medical doctor’s instructions, took yoga several times a week, tried acupressure, stretching routines for sciatica, and read everything I could about sciatica treatment and causes. Nothing helped.

SpineUniverse: Did you consider sciatica surgery?

Hess: Yes, I wanted surgery, but my doctor who ordered the MRI told me that there didn’t seem to be anything wrong, and the pain would go away. I am so glad he didn’t agree to surgery!

SpineUniverse: How did you originally learn about the Alexander Technique?

Hess: An acquaintance mentioned the technique. She said she heard it helps people with the way they move and relieves with pain. She also said actors use it, which I thought was interesting.

I read 2 books about the Alexander Technique, and I still didn’t quite understand it. Then I saw that an Alexander Technique teacher was giving an introductory class on it, and I went to learn more. In that class, right from the beginning, I felt a release of tension, and different (in a good way). I had never felt so light. That’s when I knew I needed it.

SpineUniverse: How has the Alexander Technique helped you recover?

Hess: After 4 months of lessons, my sciatica was gone.

I realized my poor posture caused my sciatica. I always slumped but didn’t know what to do about it. Sitting or standing was tiring, and trying to practice good posture was exhausting. The Alexander Technique taught me how to stand up and sit up with good posture. This was easier than having bad posture!

I learned that in my slump, I was actually pulling down. To sit up, I had to work extra hard against my pulling down habit. As I learned what I was doing and how to recognize it, I learned how to stop my habit—to release muscle tension I didn’t even notice. My posture improved, but the most noticeable effect was that my sciatica was gone!

SpineUniverse: What advice would you offer to someone with sciatica?

Hess: Look for an Alexander Technique teacher! He or she will not hurt you, you’ll learn about yourself, and there’s a good chance your sciatica will lessen or go away completely. Lessons are fun. I would have taken them every day if I could.

The commonly held idea of good posture is to hold a position; the Alexander Technique helps you let go of tension that pulls you down, so you don’t need to hold yourself up. With much less effort, you have good posture, virtually everything you do is easier, and you have more energy.

SpineUniverse: Now that your sciatica is gone, has the Alexander Technique benefited your life in other ways?

Hess: For me, getting rid of sciatica, was just the beginning. I have great posture, energy, and confidence that I never had before. I move with ease that makes me feel decades younger. Plus, I had other aches and pains (neck, shoulder, upper back) that also went away—and I know that I’m not so vulnerable to injury anymore. If I injure myself, I know it won’t be an injury for long, and I can still move and function surprisingly easily.

Although I had quite a few problems, my story is not unique. Our habits have a huge impact on our lives, and we owe it to ourselves to move, sit, and stand in ways that are easier, more enjoyable, and keep us healthy for as long as possible. Sciatica was a character in my life, always waiting in the wings ready to jump out and cause problems. Now, I don’t feel captive to pain.

To learn more about Evelyn Hess’ story and the Alexander Technique, visit her website.

Updated on: 10/09/18
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6 Leading Causes of Sciatica
Evelyn Hess
Alexander Technique Teacher
Oakland, CA
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6 Leading Causes of Sciatica

Sciatica, also referred to as lumbar radiculopathy, is mild to intense pain that radiates from the low back into the left or right leg. Other symptoms include numbness, tingling, and weakness.
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