Sciatica is a condition that results in pain, numbness, or tingling in the lower back, hips, buttocks, and legs. It’s caused by compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve, the largest nerve in the body that runs from the lower back through the hips and down each leg.
Pseudo sciatica is a condition that causes symptoms similar to sciatica, but the underlying cause is not related to compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve. Instead, pseudo sciatica is typically caused by muscular imbalances or trigger points in the muscles of the lower back, hips, or legs.
Symptoms of pseudo sciatica can include pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness in the lower back, buttocks, hips, or legs. These symptoms can be similar to those of true sciatica, but pseudo sciatica is not caused by nerve compression.
Pseudo sciatica can be caused by a variety of factors, including poor posture, muscle imbalances, overuse or repetitive strain, or injuries to the muscles or soft tissues of the lower back, hips, or legs.
How do you tell the difference between sciatica and pseudo sciatica
Here are some differences between sciatica and pseudo sciatica:
- Location of pain: Sciatica pain usually radiates from the lower back down one leg and may involve the foot or toes, while pseudo sciatica pain is usually localized to the lower back, buttocks, or thighs.
- Nature of pain: Sciatica pain is often described as sharp, shooting, or burning, while pseudo sciatica pain is often described as dull, achy, or throbbing.
- Sensory symptoms: Sciatica can cause numbness, tingling, or weakness in the leg, while pseudo sciatica does not typically cause sensory symptoms.
- Causes: Sciatica is caused by compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve, often due to a herniated disc or spinal stenosis, while pseudo sciatica is caused by muscular imbalances or trigger points in the muscles of the lower back, hips, or legs.
If you’d rather not just cover up the pain with pharmaceuticals, or risk surgery, natural treatments can provide relief from sciatica and pseudo sciatica..
Here are some of the best natural treatments for sciatica, supported by research:
- Yoga: Practicing yoga can help alleviate sciatica symptoms by improving flexibility and increasing strength. A study published in Annals of Internal Medicine found that a 16-week yoga program significantly reduced pain and disability in patients with chronic low back pain, including those with sciatica and was more effective than conventional therapeutic exercises or a self-care book.
- Acupuncture: Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine that involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the body. It has been shown to be effective in reducing pain and improving function in patients with sciatica. A systematic review of randomized controlled trials published in the Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that acupuncture was effective in relieving sciatica pain and more effective with less adverse effects than NSAIDs.
- Chiropractic care: Chiropractic care involves manual manipulation of the spine and other joints to improve alignment and reduce pain. A study published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics found that sixty percent of patients with sciatica who had failed other medical management benefited from spinal manipulation to the same degree as if they underwent surgical intervention.
- Massage therapy: Massage therapy involves manipulating soft tissue to improve circulation, reduce inflammation, and promote healing. A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that massage therapy was effective in reducing pain and improving function in patients with chronic low back pain, including those with sciatica, with benefits lasting at least six months.
- Turmeric: Turmeric is a spice that contains a compound called curcumin, which has anti-inflammatory properties. A study published in Neuroscience Letters found that a curcumin supplement facilitates sciatic nerve repair after injury
- Photobomodulation: Photobiomodulation therapy (PBMT), also known as low-level laser therapy, is a non-invasive treatment that uses light energy to promote healing and reduce pain and inflammation. While there is some evidence to suggest that PBMT may help with sciatica pain, more research is needed to confirm its effectiveness. One double-blind randomized controlled study in 2022 with 110 patients published in the Journal of Healthcare Engineering found that PBMT was an effective adjunct therapy in reducing pain and improving function and flexibility in people with sciatica. Another study published in Photomedicine and Laser Surgery in 2010 found that PBMT was an effective adjunct therapy for reducing pain and improving mobility in people with low back pain with radiculopathy. The study included 546 participants who were randomly assigned to receive either PBMT and an NSAID or an NSAID alone or an NSAID plus a placebo treatment. Those who received PBMT experienced a significant reduction in pain and improvement in function compared to the other two groups.
- Topical CBD: Researchers think that CBD oil or cream stimulates your body to use its own endocannabinoids more effectively to block pain. Studies that have tested CBD for chronic neuropathic pain find that it reduces the intensity of the pain, aids sleep, and lessens the pain’s psychological effects. A study published in the journal Current Pharmaceutical Biotechnology found there was a statistically significant reduction in intense pain, sharp pain, cold and itchy sensations in the CBD group when compared to the placebo group. No adverse events were reported
- Calmare Therapy: The Calmare Therapy device creates a low energy electrical impulse which travels through the patient’s nerves delivering a “no-pain” signal to the brain. This disrupts the brain’s misfiring pain signal and after an average of 10 sessions results in prolonged pain relief for neuropathic pain. Many have found it helpful for sciatic pain. The treatment is non-invasive and pain free.
What natural treatments help with pseudo sciatica?
Since pseudo sciatica is not caused by compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve, the treatments that help with sciatica pain may not be as effective for pseudo sciatica but there is some overlap. Many natural treatments help to relieve the symptoms of pseudo sciatica:
- Stretching and strengthening exercises: Gentle stretching and strengthening exercises can help to improve flexibility and reduce muscle imbalances in the lower back, hips, and legs. This can help to alleviate symptoms of pseudo sciatica.
- Massage therapy: Massage therapy can help to release trigger points and knots in the muscles of the lower back, hips, and legs, which can contribute to pseudo sciatica symptoms. Electric massagers and massage tools can provide relief at home.
- Heat therapy: Applying heat to the affected area can help to reduce pain and inflammation. A warm compress, hot water bottle, or heating pad can be used for heat therapy.
- Cold therapy: Applying cold to the affected area can help to reduce inflammation and numb the area. An ice pack or cold compress can be used for cold therapy.
- Mind-body practices: Mind-body practices, such as yoga, tai chi, meditation or biofeedback, can help to relax muscles.
- Magnesium: Magnesium is a natural muscle relaxant. Magnesium supplements, magnesium topicals or Epsom salt baths (which contain magnesium) can help with muscle relaxation and pain relief.
- Oral and topical CBD preparations can ease pain and inflammation.
- Photobiomodulation/light therapy can reduce pain and inflammation.
- Tennis ball treatment: The tennis ball treatment for pseudo sciatica involves using a tennis ball to massage and apply pressure to trigger points or tight muscles in the lower back, hips, or legs that may be causing pseudo sciatica pain. Here are the steps to perform the tennis ball treatment:
- Lie on your back on a firm surface, such as a yoga mat or the floor, with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground.
- Place a tennis ball under your lower back, near the area where you are experiencing pain or tension. You may need to adjust the position of the ball slightly to target the specific area of pain.
- Use your body weight to apply pressure to the tennis ball by gently rolling back and forth over the ball.
- If you find a tender spot or trigger point, pause and hold the pressure on that area for 10-15 seconds, then release.
- Continue rolling and applying pressure to different areas of your lower back, hips, and legs, spending extra time on areas that feel particularly tense or painful.
- Repeat for 5-10 minutes, or as long as feels comfortable.
The tennis ball treatment can help to release tension in the muscles and promote relaxation, which may provide relief from pseudo sciatica pain. It’s important to listen to your body and avoid applying too much pressure or causing pain during the treatment. If you experience pain or discomfort, stop the treatment and consult with a healthcare provider.