Skip Drugs For Sciatica
The pain of sciatica can be very intense and sends most sufferers to their doctors in search of relief. However, the standard medical recommendations may not be your best course of action. For sciatica, a pharmaceutical medication known as pregabalin (brand name Lyrica) is commonly prescribed. But according to new research, it may do more harm than good.
A condition in which the sciatic nerve—which runs from the lower back down into the legs—is compressed, often by a spinal disc or bone spur, sciatica typically involves pain in the lower portion of the body and sometimes numbness or weakness as well. And pregabalin is often prescribed because its purpose is nerve-related pain relief. But a study which took place at the University of Sydney in Australia found that pregabalin was slightly less effective than a placebo in treating sciatica. 1 You might want to read that last sentence again. The study found that the recommended prescription for treating sciatica is less effective than a placebo!
In the experiment, more than 200 subjects diagnosed with sciatica were recruited and randomly divided into two groups. Asked to rate their pain on a scale of 0 (no pain) to 10 (severe pain), their average was slightly over a 6 at the outset. For an eight-week period, one group received a placebo. The other was given pregabalin, beginning at a dose of 150 milligrams daily, which was eventually increased up to 600 mg a day.
By the time the eight weeks were over, both groups were reporting symptom relief. But the average pain score in the group taking placebos was down to 3.1, while the average score for those in the pregabalin group—despite the increase in dosage, even—was at 3.7. In other words, while all of the participants improved, those taking a placebo felt even better.
Now, add to that the side effects encountered by the pregabalin group, and you have a much more lopsided outcome. Those taking the pharmaceutical drug experienced considerably more side effects than those taking the placebo (and yes, people experience side effects on placebos), with the chief complaint being dizziness. And it was hardly uncommon; in fact, 40 percent of those taking pregabalin reported feeling dizzy. Other side effects frequently associated with this medication are blurred vision, weight gain, drowsiness, and loss of coordination.
Needless to say, if you’ve got sciatica and haven’t started taking pregabalin to treat it, don’t start now. If you are on this drug, however, talk to your physician before stopping it, as pregabalin may cause seizures if you go cold turkey—another nice side effect. Just be firm with your doctor that you are no longer interested in using this medication, and you’d like to try some treatment alternatives.
Unfortunately, most of the medical solutions to sciatica are far from ideal. For acute sciatica, recommendations may be for over-the-counter NSAIDs such as ibuprofen or injections of corticosteroids to reduce inflammation. In cases of chronic sciatica, the treatment options are even worse, running from antidepressants and anti-seizure drugs to surgery.
The good news is that there are several natural ways to deal with sciatica that can reduce pain and make the condition much more manageable. Consider trying some of the following options.
A 2015 meta-analysis of studies on acupuncture and sciatica at the Nanjing University of Chinese Medicine in China showed that this can be a much more effective form of treatment than many standard medical practices. 2
A 2014 study at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis found that spinal manipulation produces an easing of sciatica symptoms for a long-term positive effect.3
In addition to helping you feel really good, massage has been proven to bring relief for lower back pain, including that of sciatica. A 2001 study at the University of Miami School of Medicine in Florida found that massage therapy reduces pain in chronic sufferers.4
The practice of yoga is another potentially effective treatment, shown in a 2011 study at the University of York in the United Kingdom to improve back function and comfort in patients.5
The bottom line is that if you have sciatic pain, there are options. Yes, they require effort on your part; but considering the side effects and lack of efficacy when using the medical alternatives, it’s probably worth it.
- 1. Mathieson, Stephanie; et al. "Trial of Pregabalin for Acute and Chronic Sciatica." New England Journal of Medicine. 23 March 2017. Accessed 26 March 2017. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1614292?query=featured_home.
- 2. Ji, Mei; et al. "The Efficacy of Acupuncture for the Treatment of Sciatica: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis." Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. August 2015. Accessed 27 March 2017. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2015/192808/.
- 3. Bronfort, G.; et al. "Spinal manipulation and home exercise with advice for subacute and chronic back-related leg pain: a trial with adaptive allocation." Annals of Internal Medicine. 16 September 2014. Accessed 27 March 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25222385.
- 4. Hernandez-Reif, M.; et al. "Lower back pain is reduced and range of motion increased after massage therapy." International Journal of Neuroscience. March 2001. Accessed 27 March 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11264915.
- 5. Tilbrook, H.E.; et al. "Yoga for chronic low back pain: a randomized trial." Annals of Internal Medicine. 1 November 2011. Accessed 27 March 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22041945.