Anatomy Moment: What is sciatica?

Of all the clinical conditions we work with at Corpo Kinetic, sciatica is probably one of the most well-known.  Manifesting often as a literal “pain in the butt,” sciatic pain can be present in the lower back, gluteals, back of the thigh, or even into the lower leg.  However, the cause of the pain is not always the same, and treatment for your sciatic pain should match the cause – not just the symptoms.  

 

Sciatica, Pilates, rehab, nerve roots

A top-down image of a vertebrae, with spinal nerve roots exiting the spinal column.

The sciatic nerve: The sciatic nerve begins where multiple nerve roots exit the spinal cord through spaces between the vertebrae.  In the lower back and sacrum, the nerve roots merge into a thick cable which makes up the sciatic nerve.  This cable then runs through the gluteal region and down the back of the thigh.  Around the back of the knee, the nerve splits into two branches, one which runs down the back of the lower leg in the calf, the other which runs down the side of the lower leg and wraps around to the top of the foot.  The sciatic nerve is responsible for moving the muscles of the calf and side of the lower leg, and for sensation all along its pathway.

 

 

Sciatica, rehab, Pilates

The thick cable of the sciatic nerve as it exits runs through the gluteal region and down the back of the tight.

Some semantics: You may have noticed from our brief anatomical description that the sciatic nerve is long!  Nerve pain can be felt if a nerve is impinged at any spot along its pathway, meaning that pain in your sciatic nerve could come from an impingement way up in the upper back, in the gluteals, in the back of the thigh, behind the knee, or even in the lower leg. However, true sciatica refers only to compression at the spinal nerve root: way back to where the nerve originates and exits the spinal column.  Causes of true sciatica come from the spine, such as:

 

  • a bulging or herniated disc: the disc can press on the nerve root, causing pain
  • degenerative disc disease:  as we age, our spinal discs can lose height, giving the nerve less space to exit the spinal column
  • spondyloslistheses: in some individuals, the lumbar vertebrae can slip, causing compression on the nerve roots.
A intermediate exercise teaching stability of the lower back and pelvis when standing.

An intermediate exercise teaching stability of the lower back and pelvis when standing.

What do we do about true sciatica?  If you have pain caused by true sciatica, then I want to help you take pressure off the nerve roots by gaining stability and support through your low back and pelvis.  Proper activation of your intrinsic core can help maintain space between your vertebrae, helping keep the discs healthy and give the nerves plenty of space.  What that support, learning to move from your hip joint while stabilizing your spine and pelvis will further protect your spine and take pressure off the sciatic nerve roots.  These principles are central to Pilates, and I have been amazed at the difference they have made in the lives of my clients with true sciatica.  

What if I don’t have true sciatica?  If you don’t have true sciatica, you may still have pain associated with the sciatic nerve – for clarity, we’ll call this “functional sciatica.”  As mentioned above, that nerve can get compressed and cause pain anywhere along its pathway, and that pathway is long!  As the sciatic nerve passes from the lower back, all the way to the foot, it runs alongside, over, and in some cases under or through many muscles.  If these muscles are tight or not gliding properly with respect to the structures around them, the nerve may become impinged or compressed.  When advanced, this type of condition can be quite painful, and you might have what we call functional sciatica.

 

sciatic stretch, injury recovery, Pilates

A stretch which releases tight muscles in the hip which can compress the sciatic nerve.

What do we do about functional sciatica?  The first step to treating functional sciatica is identifying what place (or, more often, places) along the pathway of the sciatic nerve is causing the problem.  A massage therapist can use muscle testing and their experienced sense of touch to feel what structures are tightest, and then release them.  Once the muscles have been released by your therapist, stretches and some home exercises using the foam roller or pinky ball can help continue to keep the muscles loose.

As with all pain, our goals with our clients is two fold: to first, get you to of pain and, secondly, do what we can so that that pain doesn’t come back.  Once the tight muscles are released, we need to build strength in the surrounding muscles to create balanced support for the area.  Depending on where the tightness was that was causing your pain, your Pilates instructor or bodyworker may recommend exercises such as:

  • core work to support the pelvis
  • bridges and glute work to balance the gluteal muscles
  • footwork on the reformer to build balanced quadricep and hamstring strength, or to build strength in the ankles and feet

A final note:  We hope you find this information helpful and informative!  If you have pain which you think may be coming from your sciatic nerve, keep in mind that while your Pilates instructor and massage therapist can assess you and treat what we find, only a doctor can give you a diagnoses.  Please see a doctor if your pain is severe and book an appointment with us to help you get out of pain and back to your life.

Online scheduling

 

 

 

–  Julia & the Corpo Kinetic Team

self-massage, pain reduction, relaxation

Unwind for Summer: Roll & Release workshop is back

Roll & Release:

self-massage techniques for pain reduction and relaxation

If you use your body – and that’s all of us! – chances are you have a few areas of tension, be it hips, back, or neck and shoulders.  Our bodies need physical activity, and just as much they need to rest and restore.  Self-massage is a great solution when your body needs a little TLC.

Many of us have a foam roller, and you may even have a pinky ball or other massage ball.  However, most of us probably don’t use these tools as often as we think we “should.”  Reinvigorate your self-care and jump into your summer with a restorative intent – take a Roll & Release workshop!

This popular workshop is back for summer with one date only.  Space is limited, so sign up now!

Roll & Release: self-massage techniques for pain reduction and relaxation

Sun, Sept 10
11am – noon
Sign up.

$35 – single workshop
Current group class package can be used for rolling workshops.

self-massage, pain reduction, relaxation   self-massage, pain reduction, relaxation   self-massage, pain reduction, relaxation

  • Maybe you know how to use the foam roller on your legs, but you’ve been feeling neck tension these days and aren’t sure how to address that.
  • Maybe you have a full arsenal of techniques, but lately your roller has just been gathering dust and you need to remind yourself of the good effects of rolling.
  • Perhaps you are new to foam rolling and want to know what it’s all about!  Sign up and find out.

Regardless of your current relationship with self-massage, this workshop can help you reduce pain and muscle tension.  If you can’t make it on Sunday July 10th, contact us to request a workshop at a later date.

Instructor Spotlight: Meet Janet!

Janet Collard is a dancer, Pilates instructor, and all around fantastic person who I am happy to have at Corpo Kinetic.  Janet teaches group classes on Sundays, Mondays, and Tuesdays, and works with private clients as well.  Janet teaches complex exercises in such a way that her clients accomplish them with ease and grace, and her classes are challenging, fun, and feel so good!  Check out Janet’s group class schedule, or sign up for a private session with her.

Q:  How were you originally introduced to Pilates?  
In college, at California Institute of the Arts.  Our ballet teacher was certified and we also had a Pilates mat class taught by one of the Pilates elders, Jillian Hessel.

Q:  Do you have a favorite exercise or technique which you just love to do?  Why is it your favorite?  The practice of strengthening my core while remaining in neutral spine/pelvis is very powerful for me.  I get an activation of the pelvic floor and a real strengthening of my core front to back.  One of my favorite exercises is Carolla’s Breathing.  It always makes my back happier.

Q: Why did you decided to become an instructor, and what is your favorite part about teaching?
After getting an injury while dancing, I sought out Pilates for rehab and cross training.  It reinstated how great this work is for all people, which motivated me to want to teach it to help others feel better and stronger and more confident in their bodies.

Q:  Joseph Pilates is quoted as saying “Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness.”  As a dancer and Pilates instructor,  you are quite fit!  Of all the ways to obtain fitness out there, what draws you to Pilates?
Because Pilates is a holistic form of exercise, it will work your entire body.  Often people think they have to move really fast and repeatedly to get in shape.  While we do need cardio in our lives I find that our obsessive workout culture can overdo it.  Pilates is a way to come back to the basics of alignment, form, and breath to be able to move forward in your workouts more mindfully and therefore keeping you healthy and active for longer.

Q:  And on that dancing note – when can we next see you perform?  I will be performing in the Bach Project in May at the San Francisco Community Music Center!  You can get more information at my website: www.janetcollard.com

Anatomy Moment:  What is the core, really?

“Engage your core!”  You’ve probably heard this over maxim over the course of your life, whether in a group fitness class, at your Pilates studio, or maybe from your doctor advising you on how to safely lift those heavy items.  Even in the Pilates studio, where we’re known for core strengthening, what exactly we’re strengthening can be misunderstood, which brings me to today’s Anatomy Moment.  What is this elusive core?

The Intrinsic Core.   The intrinsic core, AKA intrinsic stabilization system, is most often what is meant when fitness instructors yell out “use your core!”  While “core” most often brings to mind images of abs, the intrinsic core is actually a group of four muscles, and only one of those is part of the abdominals.

The intrinsic core is:
1) Your transversus abdominis.  The deepest layer of the abdominal wall.  These muscle fibers run horizontally, like a cummerbund around your waist.  Although they are an abdominal muscle, they don’t perform the typical sit up motion.  Instead, when they fire, they draw the abdominal contents closer to your spine, creating support and stability.  In your Pilates class, you’ve probably heard mention of “scoop your belly,” “bring your belly button towards your spine,” or “narrow your waistband.”  All of these are cues used to help you engage your transversus abdominis.2) Your multifidus muscles.  I love the multifidus muscles.  The are tiny muscles which run up your spinal column like stitching, connecting one vertebrae to the next (or in some cases to the second one above).  Like the transversus absominis, the multifidus are deep – they are very close to the vertebrae.  While the job of most back muscles is to create a back-bend, or extend the spine, when the multifidus fire they actually create support, holding space between the vertebrae.  This is a great thing for our spinal discs and nerves – space between the vertebrae allows for the nerves to exit the spinal column without impingement, and for the discs to remain healthy and plump, avoiding things like herniation or degeneration.  In simpler terms, multifidus are great for preserving a happy, healthy back over the long term, and I often see weak or inactive multifidus muslces when a client has back pain.  When you hear “lengthen your spine,” “sit tall,” or “elongate” in your Pilates class, these are cues to help the multifidus muscles fire.

3) The diaphragm.  The diaphragm is the main muscle of respiration, contracting with every inhale to pull air into the lungs, and relaxing with every exhale.  In your Pilates class, you are told when and how to breathe, and here’s why: the diaphragm is an integral part of your core.  The diaphragm sits at the base of your ribcage.  In relationship to the instrinsic core, I think of the diaphragm as the ceiling, the transvursis abdominus as the front and side walls, and the multifidus muscles as the stitching up the back.  All we need now to complete this cylindrical support system is the floor, which brings us to:

4) The pelvic floor.  While I’m listing the pelvic floor last, it is by no means the least important muscle of our intrinsic support system.  While most of us are relatively unaware of our pelvic floors in day-to-day life, we use them every day.  Excuse the crude example, but if you’ve ever been stuck in traffic and really had to go to the bathroom, your pelvic floor was contracted and working hard until you finally made it to the safety of a restroom. In daily, less-dire situations, the pelvic floor works with the diaphragm, which is contracting and relaxing with every breath, to maintain a  healthy amount (not too much or too little) of intra-abdominal pressure.  Ideally, this pelvic floor acts as a “pilot light” for the transversus abdominis and multifidus muscles.  As the pelvic floor fires, the transvursis abdominus contracts as well.  In a healthy core, the multifidi will fire at this time as well, and again, I’m emphasizing in a healthy, functional system, all of this will happen and our intrinsic core will be engaged before any arm or leg movements begin.  Ideally, this happens unconsciously.  It is also important to keep in mind that the intrinsic core is a dynamic system.  The core doesn’t bear down, brace, and hold.  Instead it maintains an appropriate amount of muscle tone based on what you are doing.  Less tone should be present if you are sitting on the couch, more if you are hauling rocks out of the yard.
If you have had back pain, had an injury, or tend to sit a lot, chances are this may not be happening optimally for you.  This is why we spend a lot of time in Pilates with very explicit directions for very simple movements.  You might hear,  ” Inhale to prepare.  As you exhale, narrow your waist, engage your core, then float your leg to table top.”  All that just to lift a leg!  The reason being is that we are retraining the core to fire before movement happens.  That muscular anticipation is magical.  It protects our spinal nerves and our discs from injury.  It creates support through the pelvis and lower pack so that we can do big, powerful movements with our arms and upper body.  The core is a big deal.

Tips & Tricks: Keep moving as the Holidays approach.

The holidays are right around the corner!  Stores have already been serving everything pumpkin-flavored for well over a month, Halloween ushers in the sugar-craze this Saturday, and in November the march of parties, get-togethers, travel, and many good meals begins.  Keeping yourself moving and healthy is a commitment at any time of the year, but when our schedules change, keeping the commitment becomes harder – even if the disruption is a wonderful one, such as time off for family and celebration.

I’ve collected a few of my favorite strategies which keep me moving on Holidays and vacations, and if you have any of your own, we’d love to hear them!  Join the conversation on our Facebook page.  We’re all in this together!

  • Embrace the disruption.  Your usual group class may be on hiatus during the holidays, or you may be in a different city.  Expect for things to be different, and you can better plan to take care of your body.
  • Try something different.  If your routine is thrown off, why not take the opportunity to try something you haven’t done before?  Try a new class or go for a hike, jog, or bike ride in a new environment.  Getting a new perspective, be it from a different instructor, trying a new movement form, or getting outdoors in a new location, can give you insight into your loved routine!
  • Bring the family.  During my last visit home, my Mom, boyfriend and I booked a private session from my mom’s Pilates instructor.  It was a fun way to share what I do with a couple people I love, while working out the travel-kinks from my muscles!
  • Take ten.  If your schedule is packed and getting to a class or out on a long walk won’t happen, commit to taking ten minutes for your body.  Either at the start or end of your day, find a spot to lay on the floor and do your favorite exercises.  Traveling and don’t have a mat?  A rug or towel can give you some padding on the floor.
  • Treat yourself.  As essential as exercise is for health and well-being, so is rest and rejuvenation.  Book a massage during the holidays – chances are you’ll feel so good afterward, you’ll be inspired to keep making time for your body!

Client Spotlight: Meet Dave!

image1I first met Dave – entrepreneur, dad, and avid biker – almost two years ago when he started Pilates sessions.  This weekend, Dave will be biking from San Francisco to Sonoma as part of the Bike MS: Waves to Wine ride to raise money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.  Way to go, Dave!

Multiple Sclerosis is a debilitating disease for which there is no cure.  Dave’s ride will help raise money both for research and to provide services to those living with MS.  Read more about the ride and donate to the cause here.

Like many of my clients, Pilates is a key component to Dave’s active lifestyle and keeping his body healthy and moving well.  Here’s Dave:

Why did you originally start Pilates lessons?  “I started because I had pain in my shoulder and was worried I had an injury. I saw a bodyworker who told me I just needed to retrain the deep muscles to stabilize my shoulder, and referred me to see Julia. He said, ‘Come back if it doesn’t work, but I expect you won’t be coming back,’ and he was right.”

Have you improved since then?  How?  “I’ve improved quite a bit! I understand my shoulder much more now, and I know how to keep from getting it out of joint, and how to lift or carry things etc. My balance is better, my posture is better, my body is more flexible. Since I’m over 40, I wanted to start strength training, something I’ve never done well or consistently, but I was worried that I’d hurt myself in the process.  Julia has provided really good analysis and advice whenever I’ve been concerned about my knees, back, just my alignment in general.  Pilates has helped me avoid injury in weight training –  even though my strength trainer is probably not too careful regarding proper form – he’s a self-professed old-school meathead!”

What is your favorite exercise or technique that you’ve done?  “My favorite moments are when the instructions make no sense to me the first time because the point of the exercise is to activate a muscle I am not aware of. Julia will say, ‘Now do X without moving Y.’ Initially it doesn’t seem likely, but gradually it becomes intuitive as the body learns how it is supposed to move.”

Joe Pilates famously thought that if the members of the UN could just do his first 10 exercises, we would finally have world peace.  What challenges – big or small, physical or mental – do you feel Pilates has helped you overcome?  “Pilates has reversed bad habits, improved my balance and posture, and helped me avoid injury.”

 

pilates in oakland, east bay pilates studio

Summer Open House

Summer is here, and Corpo Kinetic has been officially in business for over a year!  We’re planning a Pilates-style celebration and invite you to join us for:

  • Pilates-themed games
  • Prizes, discounts, and give-aways
  • Demos throughout the evening
  • Healthy snacks and treats, including the “Pilate Pale” (a beer designed to be enjoyed after your Pilates session)

Sunday, June 28th, 4-7pm
Corpo Kinetic Pilates & Wellness Studio
6355 Telegraph #208, Oakland

Come celebrate with us!  Bring that friend you’ve always wanted to introduce to Pilates, your partner to whom you’d like to explain why you love your workouts so much, or just bring yourself and meet some of your fellow Pilates aficionados.

Hope to see you there!

Anatomy Moment: Fascia Matters – but what is it?

roll-release4I have the pleasure of working with several clients whose work lives are in marketing.  One of them told me recently that “fascia is trending!”  I was secretly thrilled by this news, because anything trending that has to do with anatomy is just right up my alley.

If you’re like many of us, you may have heard of fascia, but you may be somewhat confused about what exactly it is, or why rolling on a foam roller or pinky ball helps your body. On that note, I give you Corpo Kinetic’s most recent Anatomy Moment: Fascia Matters.

Fascia’s family.  Fascia is classified as a “connective tissue.”  Connective tissue is a large, somewhat convoluted category which includes: bone, cartilage, ligaments, tendons, blood, lymph, fat, and fascia.  One of the main roles of connective tissue is to provide physical support for the body, and the network of fascia is no exception.

What is fascia? Fascia surrounds all structures in our body.  It is a slippery material which reduces friction and permits easy movement.

For example, as you bend your arm, your bicep contracts, and as the muscle shortens it must glide easily across the underlying arm bone and the overlying skin.  If we didn’t have fascia, as we moved our muscles would rub on bone, nerves, skin, and blood vessels.  Think of an old track of carpet in the main passageway of the house which, after years and years of being walked on, has worn down to the threads.  Fascia prevents friction from causing a similar phenomenon in our bodies.
What is an adhesion?  If there is a problem in the fascial layers and they aren’t gliding properly, the fascia layers will adhere.  While this does prevent friction, it can create problems down the line.  Imagine pushing a shopping cart easily down the aisles – all four wheels spinning equally.  Now imagine that one of the wheels is sticky and no longer gliding right.  Instead of an effortless stroll, you’d be contorted and working unevenly to get that cart to roll in a straight line.

An adhesion is kind of like a “sticky wheel” inside the body.  If one part isn’t moving due to an adhesion, other parts will be moving or working too much, and pain can develop.  Some people feel pain around the adhesion or stuck area, and others feel pain around the part which is overworking.

roll-release2What is myofascial release? “Myo” stands for muscle, “fascial” is for fascia.  A myofascial release addresses fascial adhesions and tight muscles, working to release areas of tension.  Massage therapists perform myfascial release, and Pilates instructors will often use foam rollers and massage balls to show you how to perform releases on your own.

Ok, I have a foam roller and a pinky ball… Now: How often should I use it? For how long? When will I feel better?  

Rolling doesn’t have to take long, and is actually more effective if you do it more frequently for shorter periods of time than less frequently for longer periods of time – aim for 5-10 minutes a day.  While the length of recovery depends on many factors, I’ve seen significant improvement with rolling every day for only two weeks.

roll-releaseWhat should I roll?  How do I roll _______? You’re in luck!  Starting June 6, Corpo Kinetic will be offering monthly Roll & Release workshops.  Each workshop will include a brief anatomy discussion – what are we rolling and why? – before diving into 45 minutes of pure rolling bliss.  You’ll leave feeling better, and will have tools for self-care at home.

Corpo Kinetic Turns One!

As of today, Corpo Kinetic Pilates & Wellness Studio has officially been open for a year!  To our clients, friends, and family:  thank you for making it a great one.  We love what we do, and look forward to spending many years to come helping you move better & feel better.

In the past year:

  • We’ve extended the hours we offer Private Sessions.  Whether you’re a weekend warrior or want a mid-week retreat, Corpo Kinetic’s trainers are here 7 days a week for you.
  • We’ve expanded our Small Group Class Schedule.  Not only are our classes practically a private, with a full array of props and creative, intelligent instructors, they are also varied enough to keep things interesting. (See schedule.)
  • This Spring, we debuted workshops: focused time on areas of particular interest.  Janet Das just led her Low Back Care workshop in April, and Jenna Anjali will be teaching Fabulous Feet in just 8 days!  (Sign up here.)
  • We’ve hosted many talented body workers who can help ease persistent aches and pains through massage and other forms of manual therapy.

… and we’re still at it.  Read below for upcoming workshops, events, and special offers from us to you.

Thank you!


 

Pilates Party
Save the Date
Corpo Kinetic’s “First Birthday” Open House
Sun, June 28th, 4-7pm

Stop on by for a glass of “Pilate Pale” (a beer brewed specifically to be enjoyed after a Pilates session), enjoy some healthy snacks, and play some Pilates-themed games.  Short demos of our favorite moves and techniques throughout the evening.


joe-windoSummer Deals

treat your body well this summer
Remember when summer was a care-free wonderland full of camping trips, lazy days by the pool, Popsicles, and other cool treats?

Adults deserve treats too, and this summer we recommend you give yourself one by taking advantage of some excellent deals on Bodywork and Pilates combo packages.  These “Treat Yourself Packages” are available for purchase through the end of July and won’t expire until the end of the year, so even if you have a current package, you can take advantage of this offer.  Simply ask at the studio, and we can set you up.

Intro Treat: $195
1 Body Work Session
1 Private Pilates Session
2 Group Classes
Super Treat: $535
3 Bodywork Sessions
3 Private Pilates Sessions
6 Group Classes
Group Class Treat: $265
6 Group Classes
2 Bodywork Sessions
Just Me Treat: $395
3 Bodywork Sessions
3 Private Pilates Sessions

“Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness.”
 -Joseph Pilates


Anatomy Moment: Your Spine and Pilates

Happy, healthy spines start here

Our spines do important jobs for us – they allow for a wide range of movement, they support our upright posture, they transfer the weight of our upper body to our pelvis and lower body, and they house and protect our spinal cord, the neural pathway for sensation and motor control to the rest of our bodies.
Our spines are composed of 24 vertebrae, and while the individual vertebrae have regionally specific features, they also have basic components in common.  Each vertebrae has a large, rounded body, an open vertebral foramen, and several protrudingprocesses.


Body: The body of the vertebrae is designed to support weight and transmit load to the pelvis and legs.  When your Pilates instructor cues you to stack your spine, you are aligning the bodies of your vertebrae to best transmit force.  In between the bodies of the vertebrae lie our intervetrebal discs.  A slipped or herniated disc is one which has been pushed from its spot between the vertebrae, and is (most often) protruding partially into the vertebral foramen.

Vertebral foramen: The vertebral foramen is the passageway for the spinal cord and spinal nerves.  When the vertebrae are stacked, the vertebral foramen line up, forming an open canal for the spinal cord to pass.  A slipped or herniated disc which is protruding into the vertebral foramen may press on and irritate our spinal nerves – not a happy scenario.  Most back problems occur in the low back, which bears the load for the rest of the body.  As Pilates instructors, we spend a lot of time discussing how to utilize your core to stabilize your lower back.  When we load our spine, we want a stable, neutral lower back to protect that nice, open passageway for our spinal nerves.

Processes: Each vertebrae has three processes, or bumpy protrusions.  The spinal processes can be felt through our backs, and each vertebrae also has two transverse processes which project to the sides.  Processes provide a site for the complex network of our spinal muscles to attach: from our deepest three layers of intrinsic muscles, to the intermediate muscles of respiration, and finally to the superficial muscles whose contours we can readily see through the surface of the skin.

janet-lowbackOur spines are complex and fascinating, and the Pilates method has evolved as an ingenious way to keep your spine happy and healthy.  A healthy spine is mobile, and in your Pilates class, you work on spinal articulation – promoting mobility of each segment and activation of our deepest spinal musculature.  A happy spine is supported – all your core work in Pilates helps maintain that neutral, supported alignment as you cart groceries, sit at your desk, or pick up a child.

I have helped many people with unhappy lower backs strengthen and mobilize to get out of pain and back to life, and I believe that Pilates is unique in its comprehensive treatment of the spine.  Thank you for allowing me to share what I love!