Sciatica is quite literally a “pain in the back!” Affecting four out of 10 people at some point in their life, sciatica happens when the big nerve from either side of the lower back/spine travels through the pelvis and buttocks and passes the back of each leg. The result is shooting pain from the back all the way down the leg. Anything that puts pressure can irritate the nerve further. If you know, you know …
Even with extreme pain, about 90 percent of people will get better without surgery or the need for heavy medication. In fact, natural treatments for sciatica have been proven to be effective and are worth a shot.
Ice it! Applying cold can reduce pain by slowing nerves from conducting pain signals, and by decreasing inflammation overall. You can do this at home by adding an ice pack to the lower back. When the tissue temperature falls, there is a natural numbing due to constriction of blood vessels and less blood flow. All these things can ease, at least temporarily, painful muscle spasms associated with sciatica.
After ice, you may want to try heat next, via a hot water bottle or heat pack. Heat actually increases blood flow to an area, so instead of constricting and numbing pain, it allows the muscles to relax. In fact, research shows using cold and then heat in combination (start with cold and move to heat) can help with muscle-related pain.
Although it’s probably the last thing you want to hear when you are in pain, moving your body can help. In fact, sitting for too long can make the sciatica worse (due to disc pressure on the nerve). After a bit of rest, light exercise, stretching exercises or yoga, and light activities can make lower back pain lessen, strengthen muscles, increase blood flow, and reduce the perception of pain. Of course, it’s best to follow the advice of your healthcare practitioner before starting exercise.
A recent study in Utah showed that when physical therapy was prescribed for recent-onset sciatica, outcomes were improved compared to just usual care alone. Other research has also shown that it can help decrease the likelihood for surgery in those with lower back pain. Physical therapists can develop a stretching and exercise routine to improve posture to take pressure off the sciatic nerve.
Many people believe that alternative therapies like biofeedback can help with sciatica. Biofeedback uses a machine to display processes like blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension. Seeing and monitoring these stats is thought to help a person then consciously control the processes. As a result, it may help stress-related conditions and pain.
Acupuncture is an effective natural treatment for sciatica and a form of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Thin needles inserted into the body stimulate biochemical changes and reduce pain. After reviewing a series of studies and trials, it’s been found that acupuncture can be more effective in treating sciatica than drugs. Even though acupuncture works well on its own, it can be even more effective when combined with herbs to beat sciatic pain.
Like acupuncture, but instead of stimulating points with needles, acupressure uses fingers, elbows, and fists. In TCM it’s believed that pressure at certain areas can encourage “qi” or vital energy to flow through the body. Removing blocks of qi can bring back balance to the body. It’s been shown that a certain level of pressure along the sciatic nerve could provide pain relief, however only if the pressure is close to the nerve.
Have you seen your chiropractor? Chiropractic treatments work to alleviate pressure or pain on the exact nerve that is causing sciatica. When these treatments have been done by experienced chiropractors in a controlled study, they’ve been found to help alleviate the pain caused by both back pain and sciatica.
Massage has been proven to help decrease lower back pain including symptoms associated with sciatica. Specifically deep tissue massage, typically provided by registered massage therapists (RMTs), seems to reduce pain associated with chronic low back pain. This has been seen even when deep tissue massage was used alone, and not with any medication. Also, who doesn’t love a massage? Really.
The golden powder with healing magic … turmeric. Turmeric is an ayurvedic herb that has been found to help with inflammation and pain in the body. Curcumin is thought to be the active ingredient in turmeric that is involved with decreasing inflammation. Studies with mice have shown that even with sciatic nerve amputation, repair to the injury was possible with curcumin.