Tag Archives: prevention

Sciatica Prevention

Health Detectives on Sciatica

Much has been written on the web regarding sciatica, but what is often less emphasized is how to prevent it.  In the case of sciatica, the same strategies useful for prevention  are also often the best way to treat flare-ups.  Of course, if you already have sciatica symptoms you should first consult with your doctor before trying any of the exercises described in this post.

Prevention is the future of health care and requires learning about common conditions before we actually experience symptoms.  It is estimated that 49% to 70% of people will experience lower-back pain at some point in their lives and 5% to 10% of these cases will be caused by sciatica (BMJ. 2007 Jun 23; 334(7607): 1313–1317).  Based on these numbers, now is the best time to learn more about our lower backs.

The key to the prevention of sciatica is maintaining core strength, stability and flexibility.  Exercises that strengthen the body’s core, provide lumbar stability keeping vertebra in proper alignment. Stretching exercises provide the movement needed to nourish and cleanse the intervertebral discs (i.e. shock-absorbers of the spine). This nourishment through movement helps to keep the spine flexible and thus prevents herniated and ruptured discs.

What exactly is Sciatica

Sciatica is lower-back pain that radiates through the buttocks, down the back of the thigh sometimes reaching the feet (JAMA – Patient Page).  There can also be numbness or tingling associated with it.  It can last for months and it should be no surprise that often there is recurrence or worsening of symptoms with time if the underlying cause is not found and treated.

The sciatic nerve is the largest and longest spinal nerve in the body.   It originates in the from lumbar segments L4 and L5 and sacral segments S1-S3.  The nerve then courses over the anterior portion of the hip and threads through the greater sciatic foramen and traveling  deep into the buttocks and back of the thigh to the back of the knee where it splits into the common fibular and tibial nerves that continue to the feet.

The sciatic nerve is the largest spinal nerve in the human body.                       By KDS4444 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sciatic_nerve2.jpg)
Sciatica refers to a set of pain symptoms and not the nerve itself.  The pain symptoms resulting from obstruction to nerves in the hip region are sometimes referred to other areas of the leg or feet.  That is, the source of the pain is often not the same area where the pain is felt.

In his book “Sciatica Solutions,  Dr. Loren Fishman lists the following seven causes of sciatica:

  1.  Herniation of interverterbral discs.
  2. Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal)
  3. Spondylosis (degenerative spinal osteoarthritis due to aging)
  4. Nerve entrapment (piriformis syndrome in which the buttock muscles press against the sciatic nerve)
  5. Inflamation caused by various factors such as infection, joint slippage (spondylolisthesis), etc.
  6. Vascular problems
  7. Central mechanisms

From the OnTierraHealth prevention perspective the seven causes to focus on are as follows:

  1. Lack of intervertebral disc flexibility and range of motion exercise
  2. Lack of proper lumbar stability strength training
  3. Lack of proper nutrition, hydration and oxygenation  of vertebral column, joints and nervous system.
  4. Overweight and obesity
  5. Poor movement dynamics and posture at work, play or sleep
  6. Sedentary lifestyle or long period of inactivity
  7. Environmental exposure to toxins and radiation resulting in increased nerve sensitivity.

Exercises and Stretches to Prevent Sciatica

As I mentioned above many of the exercises used to prevent sciatica can also be used for recovery, however, if you have pain when doing any exercise it is best to seek advice from your doctor or allied health practitioner before proceeding.

Healthy movement is not only good for your health, it is also a source of joy and fulfillment because the body was designed for elaborate, detailed, luscious movement along a vast number of degrees of freedom.  One of my yoga instructors would often describe certain movements as “delicious”.  At first I thought, “how can a movement be delicious? ” However, as you regain the mobility of your hips, and vertebra through careful practice you will very likely agree that healthy movement can feel “delicious.”

A valuable resource for preventing back pain and sciatica or for restoration through yoga is provided by Adriene Mishler.  The YouTube video below is good start for preventing sciatica.

Here are few more links to Adriene’s videos for lower back and spine health:

Personal Trainer John Chase provides instructions for performing 5 basic core stability and strength exercises in the video below:

Nutrition for the Spine

In general a good diet is one that is balanced for the needs of the entire body.  Targeting individual body systems can lead to imbalance in another region.   A healthy diet for the spine will also be a healthy diet for the brain, the heart and muscle.  Healthy diet also varies from individual to individual because of genetic and individual differences.  Therefore it is up to each individual to become an expert on their own body.

OnTierraHealth recommends the following approach for healthy eating:

  1. Balance the diet such as to achieve a BMI in the range between 18.5 and 24.9.
  2. Follow the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate recommendations.
  3. Consider including omega-3 rich foods such as fish, flax-seed, walnut, chia seeds several times a week.
  4. Consider including dark chocolate for its healthful flavonoids.
  5. Consider including pumpkin seeds as a healthy source of protein, fatty acids and zinc.
  6. Monitor urine color for proper hydration.  Urine color for most people should be a very light tinge of yellow.
  7. Healthy bowel movements indicate the diet is being absorbed well by the body.  Consider also natural postures for bowel movements that relieve pressure from the sciatic nerves.  The natural position is squatting rather than sitting.

Other Factors for Spine Health

There is no way around this fact – health requires detective work. There are too many possible scenarios that could affect the health of your spine to number here so keep seeking new sources of health information and listen carefully to your own body.

In general increasing mindfulness through breathing meditation will allow you to become aware of your body’s communication.  You will notice that the body requests movement after periods of inactivity longer than 10 minutes.   So get up and stretch.  Consider the use of a stability ball chair that allows you to gyrate your hips while sitting.

Also consider alternating positions by using an adjustable height desk for sitting or standing while at work.   If possible given your physical ability, it is a good idea to spend time each day getting down on the ground.   People often lose the ability to get down easily and stand up again due to lack of practice.  Proper movement techniques should be used when getting down on the ground to avoid injuries.

Many lower-back injuries occur while driving.  Consider adding addtional lumbar back support with a mesh type device to your car seat.  I have found this type of device to be a back saver on long trips.

Good luck keeping your hips and lower-back happy, and let us know your secrets for lower-back and sciatica health!

Waterfall Eye

Photo of a healthy eye: by J-J-Rousseau (GFDL license via Wikimedia Commons).

It has been said that if you live long enough you will get cataracts! However, this doesn’t mean that we absolutely have to comply, since there is always hope of finding better ways to care for our eyes.  In this post we look at how you may be able to protect yourself from this problem looming in your future.

The word cataract comes from the Greek katarráktēs which means waterfall. Imagine standing behind a waterfall and looking out at the world and you will get an idea of what cataracts can do to your vision. The majority of cases are caused by aging and most surgeries are performed on people in their 70s and 80s, but recently there has been an increase in the number of cataract surgeries performed on younger people.

A human eye with a cataract. By Rakesh Ahuja, MD (Creative Commons license via Wikimedia Commons)

The most popular treatment for cataracts is lens replacement surgery featuring phacoemulsification that uses ultra-sound to breakdown the existing lens. It is a very delicate surgery because the 4-5 micron pouch around the lens called the capsule must be preserved to support the new plastic intraocular lens. Amazingly the whole procedure can usually be performed without the need for sutures because very small incisions (< 3 mm) are designed to close up immediately upon the removal of the tool.

As with all surgeries there is some risk of infection or other complications during the surgery and post surgery, so it may be a good idea to explore the alternatives with your eye doctor.  Before exploring alternative treatments, let’s look at how we may be able to prevent cataracts from forming in the first place.

Oxidative damage alters the proteins in the lens over time either directly or by damaging the DNA in the eye.  Glycation (sugar-coating) of the proteins in the lens may also cause them to become opaque.  Dr. Andrew Weil provides an online article full of recommendations for avoiding cataracts through proper diet rich in antioxidants.  He states the following:

“Both the lens of the eye and the aqueous humor contain protective enzymes that breakdown the damaged proteins that clump together and cause cataracts. Antioxidants keep these enzymes from being destroyed. Vitamin C, vitamin E (mainly tocopherols), glutathione, and a variety of carotenoids are present in lens tissue and in the fluid that surrounds it.”

Dr. Weil also mentions lutein and zeaxanthin and provides a list of foods that contain these antioxidants (mangoes, corn, sweet potatoes, carrots, squash, tomatoes and dark, leafy greens such as kale, collards, bok choy, egg yolk).  According to Dr. Weil there is good evidence that lutein helps protect against both cataracts and macular degeneration, two diseases that impair vision as we age.

In addition to aging and diet, other possible causes of cataracts are:

  1.  Exposure to excessive ultraviolet radiation
  2. Smoking, alcohol consumption
  3. High body mass index
  4. Diabetes
  5. Use of steroids such as prednisone, and certain medications
  6. Heavy metals
  7. Excessive exposure to RF radiation in the microwave range such as from cell towers, cell phones, WiFi, etc.

As you can see from the above list, it may make sense to use sunglasses that block UV (although DR. Edward Kondrot argues that some UV is necessary to prevent cataracts), improve health habits, lose weight, control sugar, and use landlines instead of cellphones when available.  I personally like to shut off the wireless router before going to bed at night and only turn it on during the day if it is needed.  I also make sure not to use the computer that is near the wireless router when the WiFi is enabled.   I notice that when I follow these simple precautions my eyes fare better during the day,  and I experience less insomnia and ear ringing at night.

Alternative Treatments for Cataracts

DR. Edward Kondrot, MD, MD(H), CCH, DHt,  has posted an educational video on YouTube regarding alternative treatments for cataracts that discusses the use of diet (70% raw living organic food / 30% organic but cooked), hydration, detoxification (chelation therapy), stress reduction, eye drops (Can C, Cineria maritima, Oclumed, DMSO/ascorbic acid/glutathione, EDTA), high dose vitamin C, laser therapy, light therapy, Infrared therapy, sunning the eye (closing eyes and allowing sunlight to penetrate the closed eye), and frequency specific microcurrent.   If you would like to learn more about these alternative treatments, feel free to watch this video and discuss it with your doctor.

Mainstream ophthalmologists do not appear to believe that cataracts can be reversed through alternative treatments.  For example in wikipedia we find the following:

“The Royal College of Ophthalmologists issued the following public statement about NAC as of August 2008:

The evidence for the effectiveness of N-acetyl carnosine eye drops is based on experience on a small number of cases carried out by a Russian researcher team [Babizhayev]. To date, the research has not been corroborated and the results replicated by others. The long-term effect is unknown. Unfortunately, the evidence to date does not support the ‘promising potential’ of this drug in cataract reversal. More robust data from well conducted clinical trials on adequate sample sizes will be required to support these claims of efficacy. Furthermore, we do not feel the evidence base for the safety is in any way sufficient to recommend its use in the short term. More research is needed.”[11]

However, there does appear to be clear evidence that an eye drop solution for cataracts may be on the horizon.  On July 22 of this year it was reported in Nature that the steroid lanosterol was used to eliminate naturally occurring cataracts in dogs.  This finding is also discussed in detail on the Science Alert website.  This is great news for those of us who are not looking forward to aging as currently practiced in the US.

We find that there is hope not only for prevention of cataracts but also for noninvasive cures.  And as Ben Franklin would say , “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”  So if your doctor has told you that you have early signs of cataracts and that you will need surgery in a few years,  there is much you can do besides waiting.