Herb for sciatica
by Nathan Wei, MD, FACP, FACR
Nathan Wei is a nationally known board-certified rheumatologist and author of the Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit. It's available exclusively at this website... not available in stores.
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With all the hype, it is difficult to know what nutritional supplements and herbs actually work and which ones do not. There have been claims for a number of herbal and so-called natural remedies for relief of back pain and sciatica.
Most herbal remedies that are effective contain chemicals that have analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties.
While effective, they also have side-effects. An example would be an older clinical trial that evaluated the herbal pain reliever white willow bark (Assaliz) and found it to be as effective as the COX-2 drug rofecoxib (Vioxx).
Willow bark contains the active ingredient found in aspirin and may have the same adverse effects as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
A German study on pain management reported that herbal products containing black current leaf or evening primrose and borage oils may be useful and safe for inflammation.
A German study looked at harpagophytum (a South African herb commonly called devil's claw or grapple plant) and suggested it may be useful for back pain.
Alternative remedies are not regulated and their quality is not controlled. Any substance that has effects also has potential side effects that may be harmful.
There have been a number of reported cases of serious and even fatal side effects from herbal products. In addition, some "natural remedies" have been found to contain standard prescription medications. Herbal remedies imported from Asia have been found to contain a significant percentage toxic metals.
The following website is building a database of natural remedy brands that it tests and rates. Not all are yet available (www.consumerlab.com).
The Food and Drug Administration has a program called MEDWATCH for people to report adverse reactions to drugs and untested substances, such as herbal remedies and vitamins (800-332-1088).
A dictate of Chinese medicine states that patients with sciatica suffer from bi syndrome. Bi syndromes are manifested by pain and "blockage" in the lower half of the body.
Bi syndrome has been said to be induced mainly by exposure to cold, damp, and windy conditions.
Another tenet is that a deficiency of kidney yang can give rise to "cold and damp syndromes" affecting the lower body.
Chinese herbal therapies for sciatica and lumbago usually involve warming kidney yang and ridding the body of influences from cold and damp conditions. These concoctions consist of various anti-rheumatic herbal compounds.
Oil of wintergreen contains methyl salicylate. It is often used topically for its anti-inflammatory activity for arthritis, rheumatism, sciatica, and sore muscles.
Other "non-medicine" treatments that have been used to treat sciatica and low back pain include B vitamins, calcium and magnesium.
In addition, reports of other agents for sciatica include the following:
•Rub St. John's wort oil diluted in olive oil used topically at bedtime.
•A hot bath using an extract of stinging-nettle.
•Chamomile applied directly to skin or takne internally as tea.
•Horsetail tea or extract.
•Borage, St. John's wort, lemon balm or valerian tea three times daily.
•Hot, moist packs with chamomile, horsetail, hayflower, or white or black mustard seed.
More useful herbs
Aspilia, Cinchona, Feverfew, Henbane, Passion Flower, Peppermint, Thyme, and Wintergreen.
Homeopathic remedies that have been used to treat sciatica include:
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