Sciatica (sciatic nerve pain) is a condition that causes pain, discomfort and ‘tingling’ or numbness in the lower back, legs and buttocks. This is caused by irritation of the sciatic nerve, which is the longest nerve in the human body. Commonly the source of irritation is a slipped disk trapping the nerve, bruising or damage to the nerve itself, or rubbing from adjacent bone or muscle.
In severe cases of sciatica the individual may find that they are significantly impaired and unable to continue with their normal activities. In such cases a doctor will likely recommend surgery or epidural – either of which can be a painful and dangerous procedure. In other milder cases however it’s possible to treat and potentially ‘cure’ sciatica through exercising, rest and massaging the lower spine to alleviate and potentially dislodge the source of the discomfort.
The most commonly prescribed of all the natural cures for sciatica is bed rest, which allows the spine to rest while giving it support and alleviating pain. In many cases the sciatica will simply subside on its own, though there is controversy surrounding the idea that rest is in any way preferable to light activity (which theoretically might help to limber up and move the lower spine).
Natural cures for sciatica that are slightly more proactive include exercising, and both Yoga and Pilates offer a variety of exercises that can be used to strengthen and stretch the lower back and therefore hopefully prevent and treat sciatica.
On such exercise from Pilates that can help to soothe sciatica symptoms involves the patient hugging their own knees to form a ‘ball’ where only the small of their back touches the ground. This can then be used to both stretch the small of the back (and decompress the spine which may temporarily or even permanently release the trapped nerve) and massage it against the floor (practice on a soft surface such as a matt). Another similar exercise is to rest on the ground on all fours and then alternate between arching and relaxing your back (hold both extremes for around 5 minutes). This can again serve to stretch the lower spine and the muscles and to release any tension that might causing pain in the area.
While these stretches and the natural cures for sciatica listed so far can be used as a break to help ease the symptoms and stretch the back, it’s also possible to alter your position when resting to keep your back stretched over long periods of time. One way to do this is to lie on the floor (preferably on a firm but soft surface such as a carpet, rug or mat) with your buttocks and thighs pressed up against the side of a chair and your legs on top of the chair at right angles (as a spaceman might decide to sit on their chair in zero gravity). By staying in this position while watching TV, socialising or reading (but not while eating…) you can then keep your back in a pleasant stretch.
An easier and less unusual looking way to achieve a similar effect is to apply light pressure to the problem area, which can act as ‘interference’ distracting from the pain in the area, and can also offer support which may help to move muscles and disks to alleviate the pain. This can be achieved with a small cushion (many specifically designed cushions can be found online and in health stores) which can then be placed against the small of the back while seated or while lying down.
In addition to these natural cures for sciatica, lightly massaging the painful area can also provide temporary relief and can even be sufficient to fix the problem. Patients should get a friend to relative to gently massage the small of the back, but should ask them to avoid applying too much pressure in case they exacerbate the problem. Similarly a professional massage or physiotherapy can provide a more focussed and safer treatment that will benefit from the knowledge of the professional.