One of the most prominent back complaints that we hear the most about is Sciatica. Sadly, it affects millions of people, which may mean that you or a loved one may at some point suffer from the debilitating pain it causes. Those who suffer with it may find themselves trying a number of over the counter pain relievers or prescription medication, to alleviate the symptoms.

Sciatica can affect areas of the body where the sciatic nerve is located – from the buttocks, down the back of the thighs, to the calves and feet – causing symptoms ranging from pain to numbness or tingling. Due to the nature of the complaint, sufferers may find that pain killers offer little relief from the pain as it’s generally an underlying condition that is causing sciatic pain and symptoms.

What is Sciatica?

Sciatica is a blanket term that describes symptoms affecting the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower lumbar spine to the buttocks, down the back of the leg into the foot and big toe. Usually Sciatic pain will originate from a dysfunction in the spine. When there is a bulging or herniated disc that is irritated, or impinging the root of the sciatic nerve, symptoms will begin to occur. Even though the problem is in the back, the pain (or other symptoms) can present themselves anywhere from the nerve root down in the lower back, to the end of the nerve branch in the big toe. The pain it causes can be intensified by many different actions such as bending, lifting, standing, sitting for extended periods, sneezing, or anything that puts a strain on the lower back. Trauma such as car accidents, falls, pelvis injury, spinal stenosis or inflammation to the piriformis muscle area can also cause sciatic symptoms to begin occurring.

Usually sufferers will try over the counter painkillers, like ibuprofen or paracetamol, which don’t help the cause of the problem and tend to have a limited effect on the pain too. When these drugs fail, usually the first port of call will be visiting a GP for advice who will usually prescribe stronger painkillers like Naproxen or Pregablin. These drugs may help to mask the pain but long term use can have negative side effects, which explains why people can often be put off taking them, or will struggle to find a long-term treatment solution.

The use of CBD Oil for Sciatica

CBD oil has been tested to treat sciatic pain with positive results. But how does it work, and is it better than taking traditional painkillers?

Simply put, CBD is a cannabinoid. In recent observations of cannabinoids we now know we have the endocannabinoid system in our bodies, for which the main objective is to achieve a balance within the body (also known as homeostasis).

When looking at research, the two main benefits of CBD oil is mood balance and pain relief. It does this by interacting with our endocannabinoid system to help regulate the body’s pain perception, and the body’s reaction to harmful stimuli, also known as the pathways of nociception. When we get sciatic pain from a herniated disc, irritating the nerve for example, the endocannabinoid system reacts to this stimulus and the normal response can be unbearable pain.

CBD can help with the natural pain management and provide reinforcement to the network of cannabinoid receptors by increasing the amount of “pain modulators” to initiate a response to a negative stimulus – for example, the disc impinging the sciatic nerve. This increases the body’s ability to reduce the pain sensation to the affected area.

It’s a similar process to when we have an infection, and we use antibiotics to strengthen the immune system to fight off the harmful bacteria. CBD oil does the same thing with pain and the natural physiological process of pain management when reacting to a harmful stimulus. CBD also has anti inflammatory effects, which may also be helpful with sciatica as the nerve itself can become inflamed.

Research on CBD & Sciatica

At the time this article has been written, there are limited studies on the use of CBD oil for sciatica alone, but the studies that have been published have shown promising results. One such study placed participants with true sciatic pain into different groups taking different doses of CBD oil (or capsules), and found that all groups taking doses of CBD had a significant reduction in their overall pain – with the group taking the higher dose feeling relief faster than the group who took a lower dose. This raises the question of dosage which is another hot topic relating to CBD, as there is no set dose for CBD at this moment in time.

The use of CBD is set to grow with more research being done.

For now, as the research is still in its infancy, it is impossible to say for certain that CBD will definitely help your pain, or for any condition, but the evidence so far is very promising, as are individual accounts of those taking CBD. It seems that CBD oil may be useful as a part of treatment for sciatic pain, as it can help with the natural pain management, but if the cause of sciatica is a herniated disc then you would need some form of treatment to help the cause. This is where CBD oil has its main benefit. Often, people are struggling with such intense pain, that when they are receiving the proper treatment it might not seem like enough, or the treatment itself may be too much for them as their pain has made them very sensitive. In this case, patients taking a CBD oil in combination with their treatment, to help with the pain may help them to withstand the treatment that needs to be done, or to ween themselves off their painkillers.

A herniated disc can occur as a result of trauma, or it can be caused from wear and tear to the spine over time. Wear and tear can affect the spine over the course of our lifetime, or it can also be sped up due to incorrect posture or a trauma that has altered the posture. If the spine is out of alignment it can mean that areas of the spine that are not specifically designed to weight bear, become compromised and the vertebrae may begin to compress against the disc. As this compression continues, the disc will become thinner and eventually the soft inner part of the disc may push out and irritate, or pinch, the nerve. Sometimes, after patients have tried the traditional painkiller medication, they may seek the help of a physiotherapist or chiropractor to “realign” the spine through manipulation. But what is actually needed is for the pressure to be taken off the spine, to allow the disc to return to its normal position. The spinal decompression therapy at The Mayfair Clinic achieves this by putting a gentle traction on the spine to alleviate compression to the discs, and allow more nutrients to the disc to aid healing. The Mayfair Method incorporates this therapy, along with a focus on mobilising the spine, tissue healing and relaxing muscles and exercises to strengthen and protect against re-injury.

Using CBD oil with treatment that is focusing on the cause of sciatica might be the most beneficial way to tackle sciatic pain, as CBD can help with inflammation and pain relief. It can also benefit patients by helping with sleep, which can be a powerful influencer on the body’s ability to process injuries and pain, as it is when the body heals itself. Keep a look out for our upcoming article on how CBD can benefit your sleep, and remember that if you are thinking of using CBD oil always make sure you speak to your doctor first.