BENGALURU: A condition of lower back pain that radiates down to the legs, sciatica is most commonly found in people between 25 to 45 years of age. The condition derives its name from the sciatic nerve that branches down from the lower back through the hips to the legs. It is usually caused by a herniated disc that results in compression of a nerve, causing inflammation and pain in the areas affected by that particular nerve. While the intensity of pain is different from patient to patient, sciatica is a debilitating condition that negatively impacts quality of life.
In modern medicine, sciatica treatment involves the administration of anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants, and corticosteroid injections. However, prolonged use of these drugs is associated with adverse side effects. When the condition is severe enough to cause bowel or bladder changes or significant leg weakness, surgical intervention to remove a part of the herniated disc is considered. On the other hand, alternative therapies such as acupuncture in conjugation with physiotherapy have been found to be highly useful in reducing sciatica pain without any negative repercussions or major surgical intervention.
Acupuncture is a widely used alternative therapy derived from traditional Chinese medicine. It is based on the belief that a vital force or energy circulates between the organs of the human body via certain channels. The condition is a result of a disorder occurring in the normal functioning of these pathways that obstructs the flow of vital energy.
Acupuncture practice uses very fine needles on concerned points to remove the channel obstruction and stimulate the flow of energy and blood circulation. Acupuncture points also stimulate sensory receptors which in turn induce the hypothalamus to release neurotransmitters and endorphins – two essential elements in the body’s pain relief and healing mechanism. Acupuncture is useful for relief of chronic pain such as sciatica or arthritis pain.
Physical therapy for sciatica patients may involve physiotherapists, chiropractors as well as spine rehabilitation experts working in tandem. This may be done in conjugation with conventional medicine as well as with acupuncture therapy. A physical therapist will examine the patient and prescribe a combination of therapies, including manual therapy, soft tissue mobilisation and multiple back strengthening or stretching exercises. This will also include exercises to correct spine posture and adaptive mechanisms to prevent injuries and restore mobility. (The author is deputy-chief medical officer, Jindal Naturecure Institute)