Sciatica (pronounced sigh-at-ee-kah) is a condition that involves the sciatic nerve and causes pain, weakness, numbness, or “pins and needles” in the lower back, leg, or foot. Starting in the lower spine and running down the back of each leg, the sciatic nerve is the longest and widest single nerve in your body. It controls the muscles in the back of your knee and lower leg and provides sensation to the back of the thigh, part of the lower leg, and the sole of the foot. The pain often comes out of nowhere, starting slowly on one side at a time as more of a nuisance really, and may develop into a full blown burning sensation causing severe pain and restricting your ability to move. You may notice that you can’t sleep on one side because of a burning sensation, or that the pain gets worse the longer you stand or sit in one position or the further you walk. Sciatica can be caused by compression or irritation of other spinal nerve roots that lead to the sciatic nerve or of the nerve itself. Sciatica, considered more as a set of symptoms than a diagnosis, can also be a symptom of other conditions such as a slipped disk or pelvic injury. Sciatica seldom requires any specialized treatment, merely coming and going on its own. Alternating applications of heat and ice (ice first, heat after 48 hours), along with analgesics, are the most commonly prescribed treatments for sciatica. Treatment of sciatica is determined based on why the symptoms are occurring and the level of pain involved.
Anatomy of the Sciatic Nerve
The sciatic nerve is actually comprised of five nerves at its beginning. It originates from rightand left hand side of the spine in the lumbar/sacralregion of the lower back; specifically from the sacralplexus at L4, 5 and S1-4. About as big around as aman’s thumb at its largest point, the sciatic nerve travels downthe back of the leg servicing nearly all of the skin of the leg, the back of the knee, lower leg, back of the thigh, part of the lower leg, and the sole of the foot. The sciatic nerve divides into two separate branches in the lower thigh abovethe back of the knee.
How Sciatica Develops
For such an annoying pain, it begins quite simply. As soon as there is unusual pressure on, or irritation of, other spinal nerve roots that lead to the sciatic nerve or of the nerve itself, you begin to feel it as a dull ache, tingling sensation, or full-on burning. In some instances, this pain can be debilitating. Because the nerve services so many areas of the lower back and leg, pain can be felt anywhere from the hip on down to the back of the knee.
The irritation or pressure can manifest for various reasons, including the following:
- Disc herniation pressing on the nerve
- Lumbar disc disease
- Pinched nerve
- Irritation from adjacent bones, tumors, mucles
- Internal bleeding
- Direct injury to the nerve
- Degenerative arthritis of the spine
Symptoms and Treatment of Sciatica
You’re lying in bed and slowly, but surely, your hip starts to burn; so much so that you have to roll on your other side. You’re standing in line at the bank and you feel a burning, a numbness, or a tingling sensation radiating from your lower back through your buttock and down the back of the thigh into the back of the leg. You’re walking your dog and your hip area begins to hurt to the point where you have to cut your walk short and go home. These are all signs and symptoms of irritation or pressure either directly on, or on the nerves leading to, your sciatic nerve. The pain felt from sciatica occurs on one side at a time (not both), can be aggravated by bending, and can occur with or without lower back pain. Usually lying down (not on the side that hurts) will bring either total or partial relief. “Referred” pain in the leg or back, either from a joint or from arthritis is not, strictly speaking, sciatica. There has to be direct involvement of the sciatic nerve or its root nerves for it to be diagnosed as true sciatica.
The usual treatment is bed rest, however a study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that “…after two weeks, 64 of the 92 (70%) patients in the bed-rest group reported improvement, as compared with 59 of the 91 (65%) of the patients in the control (watchful-waiting) group. After 12 weeks, 87% of the patients in both groups reported improvement. The results of assessments of the intensity of pain, the aggravation of symptoms, and functional status revealed no significant differences between the two groups. The extent of absenteeism from work and rates of surgical intervention were similar in the two groups.”. Based on your personal symptoms and level of pain and mobility, your doctor will be able to tell you how to best handle your recovery. Options include pain and/or anti-inflammatory medication, bed rest, physical therapy and stretching exercises. Sometimes surgical procedures are required for persistent sciatica.
Supplements and Sciatica
Your first stop should be to your primary health care provider to determine the cause of the sciatica. If inflammation is the cause methylsulfonylmethane(MSM) helps with inflammation.
A multi-enzyme complex containing bromelain and pancreatin helps relieve muscle tension and inflammation. A vitamin B complex helps relieve stress in the back muscles; choose a complex high in B6 and B12. Vitamin C also helps relieve tension in the back area. Other supplements that help relieve nerve-related pain include willow bark (nervous system support), rosemary (nerve tonic), licorice (inflammation), gotu kola (nervous system support) and chamomile (calms nerves).
Carol Roy is a Natural Health Practitioner, registered with Natural Health Practitioners Canada, who received her diploma from the Alternative Medicine College of Canada in Montreal, Quebec. With 12 years experience in her area of expertise, naturopathic medicine, Carol has also trained to become a fully qualified Reiki Master, Quantum Touch ® Practitioner and Reflexologist.
The suggestions by Nutter’s Bulk & Natural Foods and the contents of this article
are recommendations only and not a substitute for any medical advice or a
replacement for any prescriptions. Seek medical advice for any health concerns.
Consult your health care provider before using any recommendations herein.