This very common and debilitating condition is a type of ‘referred’ pain, which originates in the lower back or gluteal (buttock) region but is felt on the side of the leg, sometimes reaching as far as the little toes. It’s called sciatica because it affects the thick, cord-like sciatic nerve, which starts under sheaths of gluteal muscles and goes right down the outside of each leg.
The pain usually gets worse while walking or standing and is better lying down. Sometimes, however, it’s worst when sitting down, as more direct pressure is applied to the top of the sciatic nerve.
There are many causes of this type of pain. The most common is compression of the nerve in one of the lower lumbar discs in your spine. This could be because a person puts on a lot of weight, carries heavy loads, has bad posture, does no exercise and/or has a lot of stress, all of which cause the spinal muscles to go into spasm. Another possibility is that one or more vertebrae twist due to a sudden or frequent sideways movement – as with manual work or sports such as tennis, squash or golf (so your suspicion that this could be a contributing factor is correct). Very often this sideways twist occurs as a compensation for groin strain, due to accidents or falls, abdominal exercises such as sit-ups and even martial arts. The body leans forward or twists sideways to avoid the groin pain, putting pressure on a lumbar disc, which bulges and presses down on the nerve.
In people over 60, calcium deposits called osteophytes may grow into the spinal canal where they can scratch or irritate the specific nerve roots that converge to form the sciatic nerve. Muscular spasm or strain in the gluteal region – as caused by golf – can Press on the sciatic nerve and send the pain shooting down the outside leg.
Sciatica may be linked to diabetes, where one complication is that sugar crystals can block the tiny blood vessels which supply large nerves. This reduced blood supply can result in the nerve becoming inflamed and, as a result, provoke sensations of pain, numbness and tingling.
Sciatic pain is particularly distressing because the nerve may take a long time to heal, so the condition is often chronic. Just as your father has done, people try any and every sort of treatment. Over the past 20 years, I have had thousands of patients with similar problems and this led to my writing The Ultimate back Book, which relates my studies in this area of medicine. I think you will find answers to many of your questions in it.
Meanwhile, I have the following advice for your father and other sufferers:
- Firstly, lose any excess weight to help relieve pressure on the disc/s.
- Excess production of stomach acid is the main stimulator of appetite so you need to cut out everything that causes this, including citrus and sour fruits, nuts, chillies, vinegar and canned sauces.
- Avoid alcohol, because it stimulates appetite and helps absorption of fat, besides being highly calorific.
- Also avoid sugar.
- To stop carvings for food, and sugar in particular, massage the neck so that the appetite centre in the brain gets more blood and therefore more glucose, and ceases to crave sugar. (l discovered this amazing mechanism quite accidentally). You will find more detailed information in my Weight loss DVD (Integrated Health Group), and my book Dr Ali’s Weight loss Plan.
- Take gentle exercise: aim for 30 minutes of walking or swimming five days a week Therapeutic iyengar yoga is very beneficial. Find a qualified teacher locally, there is a list by area on the website www.iyengaryoga.org.uk. You will find details in my book Therapeutic Yoga, co-written with Jiwan Brar and also on my Weight loss DVD, as above.
Contact Dr Ali’s Clinic and Health Store for appointment and health products:
Dr Ali’s Clinic / Health Store
121 Crawford Street,
London, W1U 6BE, UK.
Tel: +44 (0) 207 224 5141, +44 (0) 207 224 5111
Dr Ali’s Health Store: www.drmalishop.com
Dr Ali’s Clinic: www.integratedmed.co.uk
Dr Ali’s Rejuvenation Programme: www.timereversal.net