When the major nerve that runs down the back of each thigh becomes irritated (the sciatic nerve), an immense amount of pain can be felt in the leg, hip, lower back and in some cases, all the way up arms and the back of the neck (referred pain).
Sciatica is the name given to this condition, which is really pain and not much else. It’s often caused by sprains and strains on muscles, ligaments and tendons around the sciatic nerve. If vertebral discs become inflamed, bulge out (compressed discs) or otherwise degenerate, sciatica may result.
Rarely, spinal stenosis may cause the condition. This is a narrowing of the spinal canal in the spine, which puts great pressure on the nerves. Spondylolisthesis and tumours may also be causes, but these are quite rare indeed.
Diagnosis usually involves evaluating symptoms, undertaking a neuralogic evaluation, conduction studies and x-rays and MRI scans if needed.
If you’ve been diagnosed with sciatica, you’ve probably been given one of two treatments: physical therapy (physio) or steroidal treatments (injections or oral tablets). These have shown some promise, but don’t work for everyone and you can’t take steroids in the long term, because of the extremely serious side effects they cause.
Even if you treat it once, sciatica will more than likely recur again in the future. Of course, you should avoid any activities that you think provoked the initial attack.
Acupuncture has shown strong promise in the treatment of sciatic pain. It may not, however, cure the problem if you continue doing activities that provoke sciatic attacks.
Chiropractors and massage therapists have been proved rather useless in overall treatment, only alleviating pain temporarily (for a few hours after treatment).
Activities and exercise that improve your posture will definitely assist in the long-term treatment of sciatica. Some great options include pilates, yoga, tai chi and the Alexander Technique.
White Willow Bark (as a decoction, tea, tincture or in tablet form) has given benefit to some sciatica sufferers. White willow bark is similar in effect to aspirin. The standard dosage (200mg of active ingredient salicin) equates to about 50mg of aspirin, so it won’t thin the blood like aspirin can and in clinical trials, it also hasn’t upset patient’s stomachs like aspirin usually does. However, like aspirin, White Willow Bark must be taken under supervision as it can have similar effects to aspirin and must not be given to children and people on certain medications.
In my experience, when used in conjunction with lemon juice, white willow bark can be very effective. Simply drinking the juice of one fresh lemon in a glass of water every morning can make all the difference. Ironically, even though it’s an acid to start with, lemon juice actually turns your body alkaline once absorbed in your gut. Most joint pain and inflammation in the body is caused by an accumulation of acidic waste products. By helping return your body to its natural alkaline state, you’re effectively helping neutralise the waste products and preventing them from slowing your body down. It also helps speed up your metabolism.
Use an ice pack in your lower back area (and wherever you feel pain) a few times a day. This will help reduce local inflammation and should speed up the repair of the irritated area. You can use a bag of frozen peas if you don’t have an ice pack.
Eat potassium rich foods like bananas and potatoes. Increasing your potassium intake will assist in repair of the irritated area but it also assists in stopping those painful nervous spasms.
Take a multivitamin that has loads of B complex vitamins and, if you like, take garlic oil tablets. These will work together to free blood flow to the area, reduce pain and inflammation.
If you have a juicer at home, juice two potatoes, one carrot and 2 stalks of celery. Drink twice daily. The carrot is to flavour the juice mix (and gives you lots of B vitamins too), but the potato and celery juice will help relieve pain naturally and reduce inflammation. It actually tastes really good. If you’re like me and you love a savoury juice, add some cracked pepper! Yummmm! However, if you prefer a sweeter concoction, add some manuka honey.
Immediately reduce your intake of refined sugars. Not only do refined sugars age your body faster (and nobody likes to hear that!), they also increase soft tissue inflammation. Stick to complex carbohydrates, whole meals and whole grains. You’ll thank me for it later and you’ll probably lose weight too!
Lastly, many sciatica sufferers complain they can’t get out of bed in the morning because the pain is unbearable. To combat this, try sleeping in a curled-up position with a pillow between your legs. If you can only sleep on your back, put the pillow under your knees.
Good luck with your natural treatment – but remember – if you want to consider White Willow Bark as a treatment – consult a medical professional first, never self-treat with herbal medicines.
Written by Daniel Jess (C) 2012.