Sciatic nerve pain (or sciatica) is a painful condition most often caused by a herniated disc in the lower back, which puts pressure on the sciatic nerve – the longest nerve in the body.
Other causes of sciatica include irritation of the nerve from adjacent bone, tumours, muscle, internal bleeding, infections in or around the lumbar spine, and sports injuries, and it can also occur because of irritation of the sciatic nerve during pregnancy.
Anyone who has suffered with sciatica – an excruciating shooting pain from your lower back down into your leg – will tell you that it makes standing or sitting nearly impossible. And if you don’t find relief quickly life becomes almost unbearable.
If you visit your doctor to relieve the discomfort and horrible pain caused by sciatica, you are likely to end up with a prescription for a steroid drug… and chances are that popping those pills won’t bring much relief.
According to a new 5-year study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers found that taking steroid drugs for sciatica pain worked no better than a placebo.
In the study, half the patients were put on a course of steroids over 15 days, while the other half took a placebo.
When the researchers compared the pain in the two groups over a year, there was no difference. But there sure was a difference when it came to side effects. Insomnia, increased appetite and nervousness were twice as common in the steroid group.
If steroid drugs won’t relieve your sciatica pain, your doctor’s next port of call might be to suggest epidural steroid injections… or worse, surgery!
However, just like steroid drugs, surgery won’t do you any good either. That’s because another study, also published in JAMA, found that after two years sciatica patients who went under the knife were no better off than their counterparts who didn’t have surgery.
If you want to avoid all the hassle (not to mention the frustration and despair caused by an extended time of suffering with excruciating pain), supplementing with natural proteolytic enzymes – such as trypsin, chymotrypsin, bromelain and papain – has been shown to reduce the pain and swelling associated with sciatica. These protein-digesting enzymes have also been proven to reduce healing time.
In one double-blind trial, a combination of trypsin and chymotrypsin given to sciatica patients for seven to ten days brought about significant improvements in several symptoms. The researchers concluded: “since orally administered enzymes have very few undesirable side effects, this treatment is suitable for all patients with sciatica due to intervertebral disc herniation.”
There are a number of enzyme formulas available that contain combinations of proteolytic enzymes. The important thing is to get a product that contains trypsin or pancreatin (the natural substance produced by the pancreas that contains both trypsin and chymotrypsin). Follow the directions given on the individual product’s label.
Natural anti-inflammatories like fish oil and drug-free pain relievers such as acupuncture and chiropractic treatments are also a safe way to fight off the symptoms of sciatica. Of course, regular exercise to build up strength should be a part of your treatment plan, too.
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Steroids no better for sciatica pain than placebo, nlm.nih.gov
Spine 1998; 23: 2616-24