Have you ever woken up with shooting pain that travels down the back of your thigh, leg and into the foot? Do you experience pins and needles or numbness in these areas that do not go away after stamping your feet? You could be dealing with sciatica, which causes painful throbbing in the lower back and the lower limb.
“I deal with a lot of people with this condition, the cause is unique to everyone!”
The good news is there are some natural solutions to treat sciatica and improve your overall spinal health. In this blog post I aim to teach you about what sciatica is as many people have many misconceptions as to what it is and also how you can go about treating it yourself without medications.
What Is Sciatica?
When the sciatic nerve becomes entrapped, intense pain can develop that runs the entire length of the legs. Sciatic nerve pain is usually repetitive, felt primarily in one leg and can be described as “intolerable” by most people who experience it (something like a very bad toothache!). What makes matters worse is that many patients I see can not remember a sudden cause but rather that it develops over time. They also seek reassurance as to what exercises they can do to prevent lower back pain and sciatica from returning.
While many people turn to pain killers or even surgery to correct the problem, studies have actually found that less invasive treatment options — like spinal manipulation which can be just as effective for healing sciatic nerve pain. A 2010 study found that nearly 60 percent of patients with sciatica benefited from spinal manipulation just as well as if they had undergone surgery. (1)
Doing exercise that aims to lower your heart rate like yoga and tai chi or a good massage are also several alternatives to helping you relieve sciatica. They can also aid in muscle relaxation as your mind and heart rate starts to wind down.
These alternatives also come with very little risk of negative side effects, along with numerous other perks like reduced stress levels, better range of motion, protection from injuries and even better immunity.
That said, the latest guidelines by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence recommend a combination of manual therapy and exercise coaching rather than just manual therapy alone.
5 Natural Treatments Sciatica
Specific treatment modalities for treating sciatica always depend on what’s causing the nerve damage. It is important to see a professional first to get a full consultation and assessment. It is important to know whether the cause is coming from a disc, spinal joint, sacroiliac joint, the hip, the knee or even some nutritional deficiency!
Some doctors choose to prescribe medications like anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxers or steroids to treat severe sciatic nerve pain, however there is evidence that manual therapy, such as Osteopathic manipulation, certain types of exercise and stretching can all dramatically improve someone’s discomfort.
Here are 5 natural alternatives to helping you relieve Sciatica:
Now of course I am going to be bias and recommend Osteopathy. I studied Osteopathy for 4 years full time and know from experience with my own patients how effective treatment is for relief. With regards to bad backs, one can experience sciatica due to a disc problem, the most common reason for it. There are different types of ruptured or herniated discs — some that cause more nerve pain than others. A disc bulge is less severe because the outermost layer of the disc is still intact, but extrusion or sequestration disc bulges are more severe and may need a medical professional and even surgery.
Disc problems can cause damage to the outer layer of the disc, which leads to the leakage of disc material from the center. When the disc problem progresses, these contents can enter the spinal canal and cause a lot of problems – AND WILL NEED SURGERY!
As Osteopath’s, it is important to know what type of disc injury someone is experiencing in order to know the appropriate treatment approach and whether the patient needs to be referred to their GP or the hospital. Sciatica can be diagnosed during a physical exam by an Osteopath, or your GP might choose to refer you for an MRI scan to investigate the severity. After a diagnosis, an Osteopath can work with you to facilitate the healing process.
Stretching is always important to add to any corrective exercise program and is in every case I see, important in the rehabilitation stage of injury.
Mobilizing the spine, corrective stretches, myofascial release, yoga or adopting the “NASA position” can help develop good posture, reduce stiffness and aid in your recovery time.
Yoga is said to be a safe and effective exercise class for people with sciatica. (2) Yoga can be done in a class setting like we have here at the leisure centre or it can be done at home.
Massage is another natural and holistic approach to helping people with aches and pains. Massage can not fix everything but it aims to relax muscle tension, improves blood flow and seeks to promote the mind-body connection. Massage can also help help with pain relief and aid relaxation. Massage is also a good modality for releasing irritable points in muscles called “Trigger Points”. Trigger points can refer pain and mimic sciatica, especially in the gluteal muscles.
Avoid Sitting for Prolonged Periods
Sitting for long hours, such as working at a desk or watching TV, is not helpful with regards to disc problems. Sitting down for long periods can cause a lot of compression, postural fatigue and help the disc migrate backwards when slouched. There is a bigger call for more movement based approaches in general, along with targeted stretches to loosen up inflamed areas.
Try first to set reminders on your phone, computer or tablet device to alert yourself to get up and move. If you have the money and spend a lot of time at a desk, invest in a standing desk which can dramatically reduce the intradiscal pressure in your back.
Get An Ergonomic Assessment
Most companies have their own occupational health system that can be called upon when someone is having problems performing at work due to on-going pain. As a general rule, I would start by addressing the monitor screen height as this will encourage good upright posture. I would also avoid using laptop computers on your lap, on the sofa that allow you to adopt unsustainable postures that fatigue your lower back, neck and shoulders.
I hope this was helpful, I hope you manage to find relieve with your back and leg with some of the recommended tips on this blog.
All the best
- McMorland G1, Suter E, Casha S, du Plessis SJ, Hurlbert RJ. Manipulation or microdiskectomy for sciatica? A prospective randomized clinical study. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2010 Oct;33(8):576-84
- Monro R1, Bhardwaj AK2, Gupta RK2, Telles S2, Allen B3, Little P3. Disc extrusions and bulges in nonspecific low back pain and sciatica: Exploratory randomised controlled trial comparing yoga therapy and normal medical treatment. J Back Musculoskelet Rehabil. 2015;28(2):383-92.