The sciatic nerve is the longest and widest single nerve in the human body. It begins in the lower back and runs through the buttock and down the leg. It supplies nearly the whole of the skin of the leg, the muscles of the back of the thigh, and those of the leg and foot. It is derived from spinal nerves L4 through S3. It has two types of branches: the articular branches which arises from the upper part of the nerve and supplies the hip joint and the muscular branches which are distributed to the muscles of the leg.
Pain caused by a compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve by a problem in the lower back is called sciatica.
There are a number of different common causes of sciatica and these include:
- Spinal disc herniation
- Degenerative disc disease
- Spinal Stenosis
- Piriformis syndrome
- Sometimes sciatica can occur because of irritation of the sciatic nerve during pregnancy.
As always diagnosis should be done by an appropriate physician, however the signs and symptoms of sciatica include:
- Deep, severe pain starting low on one side of the back
- A cramping sensation of the thigh
- Shooting pains from the buttock, down the leg
- Tingling, or pins-and-needles sensations in the legs and thighs
- A burning sensation in the thigh
- Leg or foot numbness.
People with sciatica may notice that their symptoms get worse during movements that increase the pressure around the sciatic never such as squatting, sneezing, side-bending, laughing or coughing.
What most of the people I see are actually dealing with is Periformis Syndrome. This occurs when the sciatic nerve is compressed by the periformis muscle. There are also other nerves in the gluteal reagion, which can cause similar symptoms. Periformis syndrom can be caused by something as simple as continually sitting on a wallet in the rear pocket of one’s trousers. It can also be the result of a fall or other trauma to the buttock area, which causes the muscles to be hypertonic and compress the nerves. The resulting pain can be very similar to true sciatica.
When someone is suffering from sciatica and the nerve is inflamed, great care must be taken if any hands on therapy is used to ensure that the situation is not made worse. This is where our wonderful essential oils can play a big role.
Compresses with essential oils over the inflamed area could certainly be part of a treatment strategy. Cold compresses can also be helpful when the area feels warm to the touch. Hot compresses can be very soothing for the pain. Sometimes it is helpful to use alternating hot and cold compresses. Baths with essential oils may also be helpful too but should not be too hot. Remember that essential oils do not dissolve in water so add an equal number of drops of emulsifier, or if you don’t have an emulsifier add an equal number of drops of liquid soap to disperse the essential oil droplets through the water. Applying the essential oils diluted in a carrier to the painful area is a very effective way to manage the pain and discomfort.
Essential oils to consider include:
German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) – has analgesic, antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties.
Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) – has anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic properties. Good for neuralgia.
Peppermint (Mentha piperita) – has anaesthetic, analgesic, antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties. Good for cooling inflamed areas.
Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) – has analgesic, anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic properties. Good for neuralgia.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) – has analgesic and antispasmodic properties. It is quite warming.
Marjoram (Origanum majorana) – has analgesic and antispasmodic properties. Helpful for muscle aches and pains. A very relaxing oil.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) – has analgesic, antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties. Helpful for muscle pain and cramp.
Black Pepper (Piper nigrum) – tones the muscles and is one of my favourites to use in cases of sciatica.
Lavender (Lavandula officinalis) – has antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties. Helpful for muscle spasms, sprains, strains, cramps, muscular contractions, lumbago, muscular aches & pains, sciatica and neuralgia.
The essential oils can be added to any carrier that you have available. An oil like sweet almond, grapeseed or even olive oil; a body cream or lotion you have on hand. Adding St. John’s Wort, a macerated oil, would be very helpful as this oil has soothing, antiseptic and analgesic properties of its own and is great for nerve pain, neuralgia, sciatic, rheumatism, sore muscles.
You can make up a blend of 3 or 4 of the oils listed above and then add in a 3% dilution to your carrier oil. Or you could try just 3 drops of one of the above oils in your carrier. When deciding on which of the oils to add to your blend do consider the person who will be using the blend and make sure that there are no contraindications for them to use the oils.
A sample blend that could be helpful for sciatica would be 5 drops lavender, 5 drops geranium, 5 drops rosemary and 5 drops black pepper. Add to 30 ml or 1 ounce of your carrier oil and apply lightly.