Most of us know someone who has suffered from sciatica, or have suffered it ourselves. According to the American Chiropractic Association (ACA), it occurs most frequently in people between the ages of 30 and 50 years old, causing pain that radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve, which stretches from the lower back down the back of the leg.
“I’m looking for work,” says one sufferer in an online forum, “have had several job interviews, but when they see how much physical pain I’m in, not even able to sit in the chair without squirming and then having to jump up and walk around, or lay on the floor, obviously, they pass me over.”
“I’m having a flare right now and it’s really affected everything in my life,” says another. “I can’t sit. I can’t stand. I can’t cook. I feel like my life is ruined, though I know it’s not.”
Sciatica often does go away on its own, but that doesn’t make it any more pleasant for those who are suffering from it. Below are a few natural treatments that may help you heal faster so you can get back to your life.
What is Sciatica?
Doctors used to think that sciatica was caused solely by a damaged disc in the lower back, which then pinched the nerve, causing pain to radiate down the leg. A study in 2005, however, found that a pinched nerve in the pelvis—called “piriformis syndrome”—caused sciatic leg pain in the majority of patients who had not found relief through surgery.
This was good news for a number of patients who had gone through an MRI that found no damage to the spinal discs. These patients were often told there was no obvious cause of their pain. Now, new nerve imaging technology called Magnetic Resonance (MR) neurography can reveal piriformis syndrome. This condition is caused when a narrow muscle located deep in the buttocks irritates or pinches the sciatic nerve, causing pain to shoot down into the leg and foot. A regular MRI, however, cannot detect this syndrome.
Even those with damaged discs may not be helped by surgery, unfortunately. According to this study, of those treated with surgery, only about a third experienced relief. Still, those who experience sciatica for six months or longer should probably check with their doctor. If an MRI doesn’t reveal a cause, MR neurography may be more successful.
For most of us, however, sciatica is a temporary thing that will eventually go away. In the meantime, try these tips to hasten the process along.
Natural Solutions for Sciatica
The best remedy for sciatica is prevention. Injury to the nerve is often related to prolonged sitting or lying down with pressure on the buttocks. Particularly if you have an office job where you’re at the computer eight hours a day, or if you’re a trucker, bus driver, or otherwise have to stay in a seated position for an extended period, make a point to get up and walk around as often as you can. Exercise regularly, and try adopting a consistent stretching program that includes yoga, tai chi, or other form of stretching.
Most cases of sciatica improve within three months. If you’re still suffering after that, check with your doctor.
- Walk: Shoot for 30 minutes every day, but even three times a week will help. If you’re already in pain, try walking for 10 minutes and gradually increase your time.
- Drink water: Your muscles and joints need lubrication—make sure you’re drinking enough pure water every day.
- Stretch: Stretching the whole body helps prevent and treat sciatica, which is why yoga can be so effective. Stretching the piriformis muscle, in particular, can be helpful. Lay on your back with one foot on the wall, knee bent at a right angle, and rest the other foot just above the bent knee on your thigh. Bring the bent knee toward you if you need more stretch. Hold for 20-60 seconds, then relax and repeat on the other side.
- Use an extra pillow: Putting a pillow between your knees while sleeping can relieve the pressure on the lower back and keep the hips in proper alignment.
- Vitamin B12: Try 1,000 to 2,000 mcg of sublingual B12 daily.
- Calcium and Magnesium: Take 1,000 to 1,200 mg of calcium and 400 mcg of magnesium daily.
- Natural joint supplement: A combination of glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM is best. Shoot for 1,500 mg of glucosamine, 450 mg of MSM, and 1,200 mg of chondroitin.
- Anti-inflammatory: You need to get the inflammation and swelling down, so try a natural anti-inflammatory like bromelain, matricaria recutita, arctium lappa, grape seed extract, and rosemary.
- Muscle-relaxant: You may be suffering from tight muscles or knots in the muscles that are causing the pinching on your nerve. Try natural muscle relaxing herbs like chamomile, celery seed, and yarrow. You can also use celery juice in your daily smoothie.
- Pain relief: A number of herbs provide natural pain relief. Try ginger, willow bark, angelica, or devil’s claw. Jamaican dogwood, turmeric, and arnica may also help.
- Acupuncture: Some studies have indicated acupuncture can help different types of back pain. Choose a licensed practitioner with experience treating sciatica. A 2009 study found that acupuncture brought relief to patients with sciatica.
- Massage: This may offer temporary pain relief, and may loosen up your muscles enough to make walking more possible. A small study in 2008 found that massage helped increase range of motion and diminish pain in the lower spine, pelvis, thigh, and leg regions.
- Biofeedback: This technique helps you control bodily functions like heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension. It may help you encourage your muscles to relax, easing pain.
- McKenzie Exercises: These exercises were designed by psysiotherapist Robin McKenzie in the 1950s to treat a variety of low-back problems. Read more about these exercises here.
- Yoga: Try a home DVD or local class. Many yoga DVDs are made specifically to relieve back pain. Certain poses that can help include the cat-cow pose, standing forward bend, butterfly leg pose, and lower back twist. You can look up each of these on You Tube for video demonstrations.
How do you ease your sciatic pain? Please share your tips.
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“Sciatica,” ACA, http://www.acatoday.org/content_css.cfm?CID=3127.
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center (2005, February 2). New Way To Diagnose Sciatica May Point To A Different Cause. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 29, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2005/02/050201192443.htm.
Bell J. “Massage therapy helps to increase range of motion, decrease pain and assist in healing a client with low back pain and sciatica symptoms.” Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies 2008 12(3):281-9.
Chen MR, Wang P, Cheng G, Guo X, Wei GW, Cheng XH. ” The warming acupuncture for treatment of sciatica in 30 cases.” Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine 2009 29(1):50-3.