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Acute and Chronic Sciatica - Causes and How to Remove the Severe and Crippling Pain.

Updated on October 11, 2017
Peter Geekie profile image

A retired pharmaceutical and industrial chemist, author and historian specialising in military events.

The sciatic nerve
The sciatic nerve
Points on the sole of the foot.
Points on the sole of the foot.
X-Ray of Spondylolisthesis (one vertebrae slipped over the other)
X-Ray of Spondylolisthesis (one vertebrae slipped over the other)
TENS machine
TENS machine
Using a Scenar machine
Using a Scenar machine

The term sciatica relates to any pain along the sciatic nerve caused by either pressure on or irritation of that nerve. The sciatic nerve starts in the pelvis area and travels via the buttocks, hip joint, down the thigh, calf and into the foot. A slipped disc, (prolapsus disci intervertebralis), is the most commonly identified cause of sciatica, but in some cases, there is nothing obvious. Less common causes include spinal stenosis (narrowing of the nerve passages in the spine), injury, infection or a growth in the spine. In many instances, it is caused by pressure on the intervertebral disc or poor posture, although it can be caused by illnesses such as diabetes and alcohol abuse.

To identify the problem the common symptoms of sciatica include, pain in the buttock or leg which is made worse when sitting, a burning or tingling sensation down the leg and a weakness, numbness, or difficulty moving the leg or foot with a shooting pain that makes it difficult to stand up. Sciatica usually affects only one side of the lower body at a time. Often, the pain can extend from the lower back all the way through the back of the thigh and down through the leg. Depending on which part of the sciatic nerve is affected, the pain may also extend to the foot or toes.

For some people, the pain from sciatica can be severe and debilitating. For others, the pain from sciatica might be infrequent and irritating but has the potential to get quickly worse and more severe.

If rested most people find their sciatic pain goes away naturally within a few days or a week. However, see your doctor if you experience any other symptoms in conjunction with your back and leg pain, such as unexplained weight loss or loss of bladder or bowel control. Take particular care if you experience increasingly more pain and discomfort or your pain becomes too severe to manage with just standard self-help measures. Sciatica is not a problem that lends itself to self-diagnosis and in these cases, your doctor should check if there is a more serious problem causing the pain.

There are less common or additional causes of sciatica which include:, Lumbar spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal, or neural foramina, in the lower back - lumbar spine), Degenerative disc disease (otherwise known as DDD, which is the breakdown of discs, acting as cushions between the vertebrae), Spondylolisthesis (a condition in which one vertebra slips forward over another one), and Pregnancy.

There are several other things that may make your back pain worse including being overweight, not exercising regularly, wearing high or unsuitable heels, or sleeping on a mattress that is too soft or unsupportive.

Most cases of short-term acute sciatica will cease without the need for professional treatment and will respond to reasonably strong proprietary painkillers, exercise and hot or cold packs.

For persistent chronic sciatica, you may be advised to try a structured exercise programme under the supervision of a physiotherapist. In very rare cases, surgery may be needed to control the symptoms.

When diagnosing sciatica, a doctor will take your medical history into account and perform an examination of the back, hips, and legs in order to test for muscle strength, flexibility, sensation, and reflexes. Further tests may include, X-rays, MRI scans and CT scans, together with nerve conduction studies to determine the health or disease of the nerve itself, but these will more likely be carried out by a consultant or specialist.

We should now take a look at the various treatments available to reduce the pain and improve the mobility. Primarily the treatment for sciatica focuses on relieving pressure and inflammation on the nerve. Typical conventional sciatica treatments include: anti-inflammatory drugs such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, or oral steroids, to relieve inflammation, or epidural steroid injections which delivers the steroid directly to the inflamed sciatic nerve roots.

In unusual cases, surgery may be warranted if the sciatic nerve pain is severe and cannot be relieved with appropriate manipulative or medical treatments.

Acupuncture Clinical trials of just under 100 sciatica patients, found that this long-established needle-based Chinese therapy helped to significantly reduce sciatica symptoms and pain. Few hospitals can offer this and normally you would need to seek a private clinic.

Chiropractic Trials with chiropractic care in sciatica treatment has yielded rather mixed results. In some instances, chiropractic adjustments have helped improve spinal function and, in turn, reduce sciatica pain, whereas, in others, it has had no effect or even made things worse.

Physiotherapy. and Osteopathy These treatments can reduce or remove spasm and strengthen the muscles and help to prevent further episodes of sciatica.

Hypnosis This therapy does not involve “hands-on” treatment and may not work on the exact cause of pain, but it can help you deal with the problem better. Hypnosis brings about a state of deep relaxation, where your body is open to suggestions. This alters your perception of pain and helps you deal with the problem better.

Reiki - This is a method of natural energy healing based on the use of “Universal Life Force”. Its energy is channelled through the practitioner's hands and has a very positive effect on both humans and animals.

Exercise Regular exercising can be of great assistance in treating sciatica. Yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi are all considered to be beneficial in treating the problem. Simple stretching exercises and aerobic exercises can also aid in the treatment of the problem. However, you must be very careful when exercising not to strain already aggravated muscles.

TENS Machine. There are many very effective TENS machines on the market ranging in price from the inexpensive to the professional. If you have a heart pacemaker or defibrillator implanted, you may not be able to use one and additionally must take great care and follow any instructions if you are pregnant.

Scenar - This astonishing space-age machines capabilities are explained in my hub.(see below). They are quite expensive machines to buy (although the price is now dropping) and require some training to use effectively, but there are clinics that can now offer a course of treatment.

Essential Oils. When the pain is bad do not massage the area but use a cold pack with Roman Chamomile and Lavender Oil which will relieve the pain and irritation. At other times when the pain is much less try the following as a gentle massage.

Roman chamomile










Use a 50/50 blend of Hypericum (St john’s Wort) and Calendula oil for continued anti-inflammatory effect.

In trials, the migraine herb Butterbur has been found to prevent muscle contractions caused by acetylcholine and histamine. Dosage level is 100-150mg per day with no adverse side effects other than an unpleasant taste and smell.

The herb Devil's claw is often recommended for treating arthritis pain and can help with pain from sciatica. Devil's claw roots are dried and made into capsules, tablets and extracts along with ointments for external application. Drink tea made from Devil's claw to relieve sciatic pain.

Massage a few drops of oil of wintergreen that has been mixed with 1 tbsp. of almond oil into areas affected by sciatica. Oil of wintergreen is widely used to treat arthritis and sore aching muscles. Be very careful not to ingest and keep away from animals, as it is quite toxic.

A Native American remedy is ladies slipper which while predominantly used for female problems also is rich in magnesium and B complex vitamins which will help reduce muscular spasms. It is also high in calcium which gives it a calming and stress relieving effect.

Drink chamomile tea for relief of sciatica symptoms. It can also be used as a topical application on the affected area. Add 10 to 20 drops of chamomile extract in water and drink for the relief of symptoms.

Turmeric is a very popular herb for treating all kinds of injuries along with healing wounds, easing sciatica and general pain management. Take on a daily basis by mixing some raw turmeric in milk and drinking the mixture. Turmeric is also quite effective as a topical application for treating sciatica. Combine with almond oil and massage gently into the affected tissue. It has long been in use in Asia and has a highly efficient track record. It can be ingested on daily basis, even in its raw form mixed in milk or used as a topical remedy by mixing it with butter oil and other herbs like garlic and leek.

A native New Zealand herb is passionflower which works as a mild sedative and nerve tonic and is used to relieve nervous tension. You can obtain it as an alcohol-free tincture from

Take between 2 and 4g of the dried root of Jamaican dogwood (Piscidia erythrina) to relieve the painful symptoms of sciatica. It is particularly indicated for relieving the compression of nerves like sciatic nerve, painful menstruation and spasms. However, this herb is not recommended for pregnant women or lactating mothers and individuals with congestive cardiac conditions. This herb should not be taken by women who are pregnant or lactating or those suffering heart problems.

Horsetail - This perennial rush-like flowerless herb with hollow stems and narrow leaves spread by creeping rhizomes and is an effective agent for building connective tissue.

Place some garlic pods into a few tsp. of mustard and heat up until the garlic has burned. Let cool, grind together, add a few drops of black pepper seed oil and apply to the affected area. Massage the area gently to relieve sciatic pain. If irritation occurs wash immediately with soap and water.

One of the most effective old-fashioned remedies that you can use is applying a poultice of horseradish. Apply this paste over the painful area and cover it with a thick towel. Leave on for two to three hours. This will ease the pain and inflammation of the nerves.

Diet can play a part in helping relieve pain and muscle spasm. Try to incorporate Alfalfa into your meals, it is rich in vitamin D which boosts the absorption of calcium plus vitamin K which protects against osteoporosis. In tincture form, it is known to treat muscle cramps and spasms. Though there is no direct link between food and sciatica, research shows that altering the diet can help treat the problem. When studying anti-inflammation food and sciatica, several studies reveal that adding large amounts of potassium to the diet can aid in treatment. Eat potassium-rich foods such as bananas, potatoes and oranges. Drinking fresh vegetable juice made from potato, celery and carrots can also help reduce the pain associated with sciatica. Just mix the three vegetables in equal quantities and extract their juice from a blender.

Although sciatica can be very painful, it is rare for the disorder to cause permanent nerve damage. Most sciatica pain syndromes result from inflammation and will usually get better within a few weeks.

If skin irritation occurs then discontinue immediately.

Do you suffer with Sciatic pain and how do you deal with it.

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© 2012 Peter Geekie


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