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Natural Therapies for Sciatic Nerve Pain Relief

 

Contents:

 

Overview

Sciatica refers to an inflammation of the sciatic nerve. Irritation can run down the entire leg to the foot and may be excruciatingly painful. It is often caused by compression or inflammation of the sciatic nerve root. Sciatica may be triggered by something as simple and easily correctable as sitting on a thick wallet or a more serious condition such as a tumor or bulging disc from the spinal column pressing on the sciatic nerve. As such, it is a condition that should always be first evaluated and diagnosed by a licensed medical professional, and any home treatments should only be attempted under doctor supervision.

What Can Cause Sciatica?

Anything that puts pressure or tension on the sciatic nerve may cause sciatica. Possible causes from my family's experience and those listed in my collection of alternative health books include:

  • Weight lifting, strenuous yoga poses or any other type of exercise that may tighten the muscles of the buttocks, back and hip may be a trigger. I actually developed sciatica from physical therapy for repetitive stress injuries in my upper body. The problem was that therapy only focused on my upper body, which instead of balancing my muscles just transferred the tension points from my upper body to my lower body. So my RSI went away, and I developed sciatica instead. Yoga to lengthen, balance and tone the muscles in both my upper and lower body was my long term solution.

  • I've noticed that people with scoliosis and a low shoulder may develop sciatica on the same side of the body as the low shoulder. I think tight muscles in the hip area may pull the shoulder down as well as put pressure on the sciatic nerve.

  • Many women, me included, develop sciatica from pregnancy. This may happen because the weight of the fetus in the front of the body causes the muscles in the back to contract and tighten, which in turn irritates the sciatic nerve.

  • Sitting on something hard that pinches the nerve, such as hard, metal bleacher seats, a Styrofoam back roller, or sitting on a thick wallet can cause sciatic pain. Laying lengthwise on a Styrofoam roller can be great for back pain and rounded shoulders, but unless you do leg stretches afterwards, in our experience sometimes it can just transfer tension points from the upper body to the lower body. One of my relatives has learned to follow his back roller sessions with a yoga "legs up wall pose" so that both his upper body and lower body get stretched out equally.

  • I have a bit of a hard mattress, and sometimes wake up with an attack of sciatica in the middle of the night. When this happens I do the tennis ball trigger point therapy as described below and the pain always goes away.

Stretches for Sciatica

Sciatica refers to the condition where pressure is placed on the sciatic nerve, causing intense pain that may start at the lower back or buttocks and run down the leg to the foot. This pain may be caused by something as simple like sleeping on a hard mattress, sitting on a hard bench. One common problem is tight muscles pressing on the sciatic nerve.

The following stretches are a couple of the ones that I personally found that worked to relieve my sciatic pain.

Knees to Chest Stretch

 

supine knee to chest stretch

  • Supine knees to chest - lay on the floor with your legs slightly bent. Grasp the knee of the leg with the sciatic pain with both hands. Slowly and gently pull it towards your chest. Stop if you feel any pain. It should feel like a gentle, good stretch. Be careful not to pull too hard or your muscles may go into spasm, which would then make the pain worse instead of better. You can do also do this this pose with one or both legs being pulled towards your chest, but I would put the emphasis on pulling the leg with the sciatic pain the most. If this pose produces any discomfort, then you may want to try trigger point massage therapy instead of stretching, and try the stretch again at a later time when you are out of acute sciatic pain.

Crisscross Knees

illustration of crisscross knee stretch

  • Crisscross Knee Stretch - Lay on the floor with your arms at your sides and your legs bent. First cross your left leg over your right leg and then push both legs gently back to the left. Then repeat on the opposite side. I do both side but hold the stretch a little longer when the leg with the sciatic pain is the bottom leg of the crisscross. Don't pull too hard or your muscles may go into spasm, making the pain worse. You should just feel a nice, gentle stretch. As noted above, don't do any poses that cause greater discomfort. If any type of stretches hurt, then it may be better to hold off andtry the trigger point therapy until the pain subsides.

 

Trigger point Therapy

For my family members and me acupressure is the main treatment that helps acute episodes of sciatic nerve pain. Yoga, stretching and diet changes may all help to prevent further episodes from happening, but for acute pain the main treatment that helps us has always been trigger point therapy,

What we have found most helpful is to apply pressure to the trigger point right in the middle of the buttocks, either using a massage tool or simply rolling on a tennis ball. One of my web site readers found immediate relief from years of sciatic pain by applying pressure to trigger points by rolling on the floor using hard, rubber dog toys!

If you have someone else to help you with trigger point therapy, you can lay on your stomach and have them use a massage tool with a rounded end, to press the trigger points around your hips and gluteus maximus.

If you don't have a helper for trigger point massage, and want to try something other than rolling on the tennis ball, you can try a product called a theracane. It has a long curved end which helps to reach places like your backside, which otherwise might be hard to massage on your own.

Yoga Postures

  woman with yoga mat

I have a large collection of therapeutic yoga books and many have sections with poses to do for sciatica. One interesting point to note is that the poses in general are all different from book to book. Many appear to me to be selected at random, and some actually are poses that would tighten the muscles in the legs and buttocks and most likely would make sciatic nerve pain worse.

However, when I last had sciatica, I found the book Back Care Basics by Mary Pullig Schatz, M.D. 1 helpful. It has an entire chapter on sacroiliac Pain and sciatica. Besides the Knee to Chest pose, which is covered above under stratches, other postures that helped include:

  • Passive Back Arch
  • Supine Cobbler's Pose
  • Piriformis Stretch
  • Crocodile Twist (lying twist)
  • Supine Knee to Chest (variation 1)
  • One Leg Up, One Leg out - lay near a doorway and have one leg stretched up the wall and one leg straight out on the floor in front of you. I had to work up to this posture. I started out with my leg up the wall at a 45 degree angle and then as my leg loosened up over time worked up to ninety degrees.

In general, for me the best poses were ones where I was laying flat on my back and stretching my legs in various positions. Many other yoga books recommend standing postures, but in my case the standing postures tended to tighten my leg muscles and made my pain worse.

Dr. Vasant Lad, writing in Ayurveda: The Science of Self Healing 2, recommends the following poses for sciatica:

  • Knee to chest
  • Backward Bend
  • Plough
  • Yoga Mudra
  • Half Wheel

I have did not have any more problems with sciatica prior to purchasing Dr. Lad's book, so I could not personally test out the above poses. However, much of the other advice in his Ayurvedic book has been very helpful for my family and me, so I thought I'd include his recommended poses in this article as others may find them of use.

I do think that sciatica may require very individualized treatment depending on the individual and the cause of the pain, so it may pay to try just one pose from the above lists at a time and record the results, keeping the poses that seem to help in your daily practice and holding off on ones that cause further pain. If a pose causes pain, it is often because it pulls where you are the tightest and least flexible, so ironically it may be the pose you need to do the most over the long term.

However, initially either holding off altogether or practicing a modified, more gentle variation of any pose that causes you problems may be in order at first. In my opinion, yoga or any other treatment for sciatica should never hurt, and any poses you cannot do comfortably you should refrain from practicing for the time being. For times when any poses were painful to do, then trigger point therapy treatments listed below usually worked best.

Ayurvedic Treatment   peson getting hot oil massage

According to Dr. Vasant Lad, sciatica is a common complaint for people with a vata dosha. In Ayurveda, the Science of Healing, Dr. Lad states that, "Vata people are very susceptible to gas, lower back pain, arthritis, sciatica, paralysis and neuralgia." 3 Vata people tend to have thin frames, low body weight and cold, dry skin.

For more information on Dr. Lad's Ayurvedic treatment of sciatic nerve pain, you can more about it here.

Acupressure

In the book Acupuncture without Needles by J. V. Cerney 4, the author recommends treating sciatica by applying pressure to the following "A" priority points in the following order: B 47, B 48, B 51 B 54 and B 60. The author's next priority, his "B" list, consist of GV 2 followed by GV 3.

For sciatic pain on the side of the leg, Chris Janey and John Tindale, writing in Acupressure for Commons Ailments 5, recommend treating points GB 30 and GB 31. The authors feel that dispersing points GB 34 and GB 39 may also help.

For pain on the back of the leg, Janey and Tindale recommend treating points B 57 and B 60. Recommended secondary points for side leg pain are B54, B 26, and B23. Note: The author's have a caution that B 60 should not be used during pregnancy.

Michael Reed Gach, author of The Bum Back Book 6, recommends treating points GB 30, GB 34, GB 40, and GB 41, in the order listed, for sciatic pain relief.

You can find an online chart with acupuncture points at www.acupuncture.com.

Diet Therapy

  produce in diet

Sciatica is often caused by tight muscles, and tight muscles may be caused by a lack of magnesium. Calcium is the main mineral involved in muscle contraction, while magnesium is the main mineral that releases muscle contractions. Without magnesium muscles may stay permanently in a tight, contracted state. Studies show that many people on Western diets with high amounts of processed food may not be getting the RDA of magnesium, so it may be a good idea to watch your diet to make sure you are getting enough of this important mineral to keep your muscles relaxed.

When one of my relatives starts to feel a twinge of sciatica coming on, he eats a lot of peanuts, a magnesium rich food, and usually this will stop his pain almost immediately. (Obviously this is not a viable solution for people with peanut allergies.) Other foods high in magnesium include nuts (almonds, cashews, pistachios, walnuts, etc.), beans, bananas, and leafy green vegetables. Factors that deplete magnesium levels include a diet high in phytates (found in whole grains and unleavened bread), coffee and other caffeinated substances, and excess calcium intake. For more information see my page on how to get more increase your magnesium levels with whole foods.

For what to eat to relieve chronically tight muscles, see my section on the best diet for fibromyalgia.

Summary

Sciatica can be a debilitating condition that should always be diagnosed by a licensed health care provider, as it may have serious causes, such as a herniated disc. Alternative treatments for sciatic pain that may be helpful include practicing appropriate yoga postures, acupressure, trigger point therapy, Ayuvedic medicine and diet improvement.

 

 

Related Pages -

Natural therapies for:

Swollen Ankles

Knee Pain

Scoliosis

 

References:

1. Schatz, Mary Pullig. Back Care Basics. Berkeley, California: Rodmell Press, 1992.

2. Lad, Vasant. Ayurveda: The Science of Self Healing. Twin Lakes, Wisconsin: Lotus Press, 1984. 115.

3. Ibid., at 38.

4. Cerney, J. V. Acupuncture Without Needles. West Nyack, New York: Parker Company, 1983. 198-201.

5. Janey, Chris, and John Tindale. Acupressure for Common Ailments. New York: Fireside, 1991. 83.

6. Gach, Michael Reed. The Bum Back Book. Berkeley: Celestialarts, 1983. 58-60.

 

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