Sciatica is a painful condition characterized by impingement or injury of the sciatic nerve. This large nerve runs from the lumbar spine to the foot on each side of the body. Nerve pain is characteristically sharp and may be accompanied by pain, tingling, numbness and weakness along the affected nerve’s pathway. Sciatica often causes pain in the lower back, buttock and back of the leg down to the knee. Occasionally, symptoms extend all the way to the foot. A 2012 study highlights one way in which exercise can be an important component of sciatica treatment.
The study, conducted by Yu-Wen Chen, PhD, et al. sought to assess the effects of exercise on rats exhibiting pain behaviors attributed to sciatic nerve injury. The researchers measured both pain behavior changes and levels of cytokines, proteins that promote inflammation. Researchers found that exercise in the form of treadmill running or swimming both helped to reduce cytokine levels and pain levels. Pain levels were measured by analyzing rats’ responses to temperature change and the application of pressure, two typical pain triggers in the presence of neuropathic pain. The study’s findings may apply to all types of neuropathic pain, not just sciatic injury. See more on the study at www.sciencedaily.com.
Sciatica may occur in humans when a disc in the lumbar spine herniates or bulges. This causes disc material to impinge the nerve as it exits the spine. The nerve can also become impinged further down its course in the buttocks if the piriformis muscle becomes tight and inflamed; this is called piriformis syndrome. Sciatic injury can also occur due to direct trauma, such as a hard blow. Diabetic neuropathy can also cause sciatica pain.
Inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury or infection. When the sciatic nerve is impinged or irritated, it will become inflamed. The body does this to 1) block off potential threats from spreading from the injured/infected area to other parts of the body and 2) to facilitate tissue regrowth and healing. However, when impingement or neuropathy is chronic, inflammation fails to serve its protective role. Chronic inflammation can actually cause tissue damage. Aside from that, inflammation is painful. An important part of nerve pain treatment, then, is inflammation manageent.
As the results of the study show, exercise is not a miracle cure for neuropathic pain. The rats in the study exhibited a 30-50% reduction of pain behavior, indicating that it is, however, effective in reducing pain. The value of strength-training sciatica exercises for people with disc-related nerve impingement is well-established, but the novelty of this study is its focus on the impact of cardiovascular exercise. The structure of the study suggests that cardio is key to reducing inflammation. Swimming is a rigorous for of cardio that is very gentle on the body.
For more information on exercises for sciatica related to musculoskeletal dysfunctions, see www.spine-health.com.
Cardio exercise can help reduce neuropathic pain by reducing inflammation. Consider incorporating this type of exercise into your back pain treatment plan.