It is estimated that roughly 31 million people in the United States alone suffer from back pain at any given time. This is a staggering statistic, but if you are one of the millions who live with back pain, it is more than just a number. Back pain can have a major impact on your day-to-day life and often requires medication to treat the pain and the underlying cause.
One of the most common types of back pain is sciatica. Though this condition can be very uncomfortable, there is some good news. Sciatica can often be managed naturally without prescription drugs. Although all treatments should be discussed with your doctor, there are several alternative options for you to consider. Most of them can complement your existing treatment so you can become pain free more quickly.
Sciatica and Your Body
Sciatica is pain that occurs along the sciatic nerve. This nerve is the longest in the body, running from your lower back to your buttock and hip area and down the back of your legs. Sciatica does not simply appear without cause. It is the symptom of another condition, most often a herniated disk. Pads of cartilage called disks separate and cushion the bones in your spinal cord. As you age, these disks may grow thin and brittle and cannot do their job as efficiently as they used to. Tears and ruptures in the disks are referred to as herniation. When this happens, nerves in your lower spine may become compressed, resulting in sciatica.
Sciatica pain generally radiates from the lower spine down the back of the leg. Often, only one limb is affected at a time. The pain may feel like a mild ache or sharp jolt. It often worsens if you sit for prolonged periods. Other symptoms of sciatica are muscle weakness and numbness along the nerve and tingling in the foot. Though sciatica pain can be quite uncomfortable, it may go away on its own in four to eight weeks. If you suffer from sciatica pain that impacts your life or occurs regularly, you should see your doctor.
Lifestyle and Alternative Treatments
Physical therapy is a crucial aspect of sciatica treatment when pain is due to a herniated disk. Sticking to therapy consistently will help you heal more quickly and prevent the problem from recurring. The goal of physical therapy is to improve your posture, strengthen your back and enhance your flexibility. In effect, the exercises you’ll do with your therapist and on your own will give you the healthy back of a younger person!
If you are in pain, acupuncture has been known to help. Studies are inconclusive, but an experienced practitioner may be able to ease back pain considerably. Chiropractic treatments have also been effective, especially for relieving pain initially. Chiropractic doctors perform various spinal adjustments and manipulations designed to improve alignment and restore health. Chiropractors often incorporate stretching and massage into treatment, but traditional massage has also been shown to relieve back pain. Look for a therapist who perhaps specializes in back pain.
Hypnosis may help sciatica sufferers deal with back pain. This technique can induce relaxation and train the brain to perceive pain differently. It is not certain how hypnosis works, but it can help patients cope with chronic pain.
Another simple way to relieve initial sciatica pain is by using hot and cold packs. Apply cold packs to the affected area for 15 minutes when pain strikes. After 48 hours, switch to hot packs where it hurts. Regular stretching is another way to keep your back limber so pain does not grow more intense. Ask your doctor or therapist to show you a few simple stretches and do them several times a day. Try not twist or bounce, and hold each pose for about 30 seconds.
Along with physical therapy, exercise is a proven way to handle pain both initially and as your condition improves. You may need to take it easy for a day or two, but then you should resume as much normal activity as possible. In the early stages of sciatica pain, low impact exercise, such as water aerobics or riding a stationary bike, may be preferable. As you start feeling better, you can do aerobics and strength training. If you are new to exercise, working up to 30 minutes of walking every day is a great way to start.
Although sciatica is no picnic, there are many natural ways to cope. You should talk to your doctor before starting any alternative treatment. Whatever you do should complement your current treatment plan, not conflict with it. Knowing you are taking steps to a healthier back will improve your mental outlook and get you on the way to an even faster recovery.
Mark Bromson, M.D.