Sciatica is a condition caused by pressure on the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is actually a bundle of nerves that branches off from the base of the spine, through the buttocks and down the legs. When pressure is put on the sciatic nerve, it can cause symptoms ranging from tingling and/or numbness to excruciating pain. These are the major causes of sciatica:
- Herniated Disc: the vertebrae of the spine are separated by spongy discs. When a disc in the lumbar (lower) region of the back herniates, it bulges out and puts pressure on the sciatic nerve.
- Piriformis Syndrome: The piriformis muscle is a small, pear shaped muscle connecting the lower spine (sacrum) to the top of the thigh bone (femur). Injury to this muscle can exert pressure on the sciatic nerve and cause sciatica.
- Spinal Stenosis: constriction or narrowing in the spinal canal can cause muscular imbalances that result in pressure on the sciatic nerve.
- Isthmic Spondylolisthesis: this is the scientific term for a dislocated vertebra that puts pressure on the sciatic nerve.
Before you undertake any kind of treatment for sciatica, it is vitally important to know the cause of your condition. An exercise treatment for Piriformis Syndrome, for example, may be the worst type of exercise for sciatica caused by a herniated disc.
Sciatica First Aid Treatment
When you are feeling acute pain from sciatica, alternating hot and cold compresses increase circulation, relieve pain and may aid in faster recovery from the condition.
Dietary Treatments for Sciatica
No matter what the original cause of sciatica, muscle spasms and inflammation become part of the problem. A diet rich in magnesium can help relieve muscle spasms. Peanuts, almonds, cashew and other nuts are great sources of magnesium, as are beans, bananas and leafy green vegetables. Beverages containing caffeine and calcium deplete magnesium, so coffee, caffeinated soft drinks and calcium supplements should be reduced or eliminated. Phytates, which occur in whole grain foods and unleavened breads, also deplete magnesium levels, so they too should be avoided, at least while the condition is acute.
Any foods rich in vitamin B and vitamin B-complex will aid in the healing process. Some of these include whole grains. As mentioned, these deplete magnesium, so should be avoided. Other foods containing both magnesium and B vitamins include nuts, bananas, spinach and other leafy green vegetables. This makes them even more important additions to your diet when treating sciatica.
Garlic, either raw or as a supplement is said to be an effective treatment. In Germany, raw sauerkraut has been used for centuries for all kinds of pain relief, including sciatica.
Elderberry has a reputation for being a muscle relaxant and is another old folk remedy for sciatica. Either elderberry juice or tea is said to be effective.
Acupuncture for Sciatica
Acupuncture has been used in China as a treatment for sciatica and general pain relief for thousands of years. During an acupuncture treatment, very fine needles are inserted just beneath the surface of the skin in precise areas known as "meridians". This is said to relieve blockages in the flow of energy or "Qi" throughout the body.
Trigger Point Therapy for Sciatica
Trigger points are knots of muscular contraction in the body. A trained trigger point therapist can pinpoint these knots and release the tension caused by them. Often, the point the therapist works on is not located at the point of pain. This is because the felt pain is "referred pain", so don't be surprised if a trigger point therapist does not work on the points where you feel pain.
Chiropractic Treatment for Sciatica
Chiropractors view the spine as the cause of most maladies. Depending on the type of sciatica you are suffering from and the severity of the problem, a chiropractor may decide on any of a number of treatments. A chiropractor may also recommend an exercise program to help alleviate the symptoms of the condition and help prevent its recurrence.
Exercises for Sciatica
Most experts now agree that complete inactivity or bed rest actually aggravates sciatica. No matter what the cause of sciatica, some form of exercise is recommended. The catch is that the wrong kind of exercise can aggravate your condition, so it is important to first get a professional diagnosis of the cause of your sciatica and then consult a trained health care practitioner before you undertake any kind of training program.
Sports therapists recommend specific exercises for the treatment of sciatica caused by piriformis syndrome. If you have been diagnosed as having this type of sciatica, you may want to consult with a sports therapist or physiotherapist with experience in this area.
When properly performed, yoga, pilates and other gentle forms of stretching exercises can help prevent the occurrence of sciatica and help prevent their re-occurrence. Whatever type of exercise you choose, do it slowly and carefully. Never try to push yourself beyond your pain threshold. These forms of exercise are not recommended for acute cases of sciatica caused by a herniated disc unless under trained supervision.
If you are suffering from sciatica, take heart: there are natural treatments available. Surgery is rarely necessary and is usually not advised unless it is unavoidable. With the right care and treatment, you can be back to normal again without surgery and know how to prevent future recurrences.