What is Sciatica?
Sciatica refers to the pain caused in the lower back, buttocks and legs due to the pressure on the sciatic nerve. Sciatic nerve is formed by the combination of five spinal nerve roots that exit from the lumbar and sacral vertebrae. The nerve is one of the largest nerves in the body and innervates the buttocks, legs, feet etc. The pain due to sciatica is described as a radiating type of pain. It extends through the areas supplied by the sciatic nerve.
Most commonly, sciatica is known to affect only one side of the body. Medically, sciatica is referred to as Lumbar Radiculopathy. It may also be referred to as compressed or pinched nerve pain. Sciatica is not a disease by itself. It refers to the set of symptoms arising due to the pressure on the sciatic nerve. The pressure on the sciatic nerve is caused by the herniation or degeneration of the vertebrae in the lower spine.
Pregnancy, formation of scar tissue, muscular sprains and fractures of the bone can produce symptoms similar to sciatica. Certain disorders of the piriformis muscle and the sacroiliac joint also produces similar symptoms.
Sciatica as said refers to a set of symptoms arising out of the pressure on the sciatic nerve. The pressure effects may occur due to a variety of reasons. Some of the common causes of sciatica are-
• Herniation of lumbar disc
• Degenerative disc disease of the lower spine
• Formation of bone spurs in the lower spine
• Isthmic spondylolisthesis-This occurs due to the minor stress fractures of the vertebrae The fractures vertebrae may slip over the vertebrae below.
• Lumbar spinal stenosis- In this condition there is a severe narrowing of the spinal canal
Other conditions that can create symptoms similar to sciatica are:
• Pregnancy- there is a shift in the body’s centre of gravity due to weight gain
• Epidural fibrosis— a condition where scar tissue compresses on the spinal nerve
• Spinal tumor
• Infections of the lower back
• Ankylosing spondylitis of the sacro-iliac joints
• Piriformis syndrome- In this condition the piriformis muscles exerts pressure on the nerve
• Sacroiliac joint dysfunction
• Obesity and smoking may increase the risk of developing sciatica
• Pain- The most common symptom of sciatica is pain. The pain is usually constant in nature. It is felt only on one side of the body. It usually originates in the lower back and spreads to the buttock, thigh, leg and feet. The intensity of pain is moderate to severe. Certain persons may feel excruciating pain. The pain reduces while lying down or walking but increases while sitting or standing.
• "Pins-and-needles" sensation in the leg
• Tingling sensation in the leg
• Weakness or numbness of the leg or foot
The symptoms may worsen during sudden or abrupt movements. Coughing, sneezing and sudden changes in posture may increase the intensity of pain.
Sciatica pain treatment options:
A majority of those suffering from sciatica gets relief through nonsurgical methods. The aim of treatment is to reduce the symptoms and to prevent them from aggravating.
The common conservative methods for treating sciatica are-
• Medications- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are recommended to control pain. They help relieve pain and other symptoms to a larger degree. Narcotic analgesics and muscle relaxants may also be recommended in certain situations.
• Heat and cold therapy- Application of heat or cold ice packs is known to alleviate the symptoms in most cases. Certain persons may respond to heat application better while for others the reverse may be true. Alternate applications of heat and cold also provide a lot of benefits.
• Physical therapy and exercises- Various exercises are prescribed to improve the condition. They include strengthening exercises, stretching exercises and other low-impact aerobic exercises. The type of exercise regimen may vary according to the cause of the condition.
• Alternative treatments- Acupuncture, chiropractic practices, massage therapy and behavioural therapy is also known to provide relief in certain cases.
• Sciatica surgery- Surgery is recommended only if non-surgical techniques have failed to produce effective relief from the condition. Severe or excruciating pain that affects the normal activities of a person is a typical case for surgery. Surgery is also recommended if there is severe weakness in the legs or a loss of bladder or bowel function.
The type of surgery depends on the cause of the condition. The common types of surgeries prescribed for sciatica are microdiscectomy, lumbar laminectomy or a lumbar discectomy.
Ayurvedic treatment for sciatica:
According to Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of medicine, sciatica is referred to as gridhrasi. It is so called because the pain experienced due to sciatica makes a person alter his gait to get relief. The gait finally resembles that of a vulture or gridhra in Sanskrit.
According to Ayurveda, all bodily disorders occur due to an imbalance of the three doshas namely vata, pitta and kapha. Sciatica according to Ayurveda occurs due to an aggravation of vata dosha. There might also be an involvement of the kapha dosha also. A build of toxins called ama according to Ayurveda is an important contributing factor. The toxins or ama build up in the body due to an improper digestive mechanism.
The aim of any ayurvedic treatment is to restore the equilibrium of the three doshas. For this Ayurveda takes a holistic approach of treatment. In this approach the body as a whole is subjected to treatment rather than treating the affected parts. It also aims to harmonise the mechanics of body and the mind.
For sciatica Ayurveda prescribes treatments that pacify the vata dosha and brings it back to normal. A specific diet is also prescribed for the patient during treatments.
Ayurveda treatment for back pain or sciatica is dependent on the constitution of the patient’s body. For sciatica, Ayurveda prescribes sodhana, samana and rasayana karmas. Sodhanam gets rid of the toxins in the body, while samanam pacifies the vata aggravation. Rasayanam rejuvenates the body and the mind making the patient feel refreshed.
Panchakarma an ayurvedic treatment that aims to restore and rejuvenate the body is a perfect treatment option for sciatica. It not only controls the symptoms but also lifts the energy levels of the body and mind. The duration of ayurvedic treatment for sciatica can range from 15 to 22 days depending on the intensity of the disease. The ayurvedic treatment cost for sciatica in India is between 1,300-3,800 USD. Cost varies greatly based on the hospital chosen as different hospitals have varying levels of amenities and facilities.