Magnesium for Sciatica: Does it Really Work?

Magnesium for Sciatica: Does it Really Work?

Do you have painful or tingling sensations travelling down your leg? Then you more than likely are suffering from sciatica. It can be a major inconvenience in life, and sometimes so painful it can leave people incapacitated. But what if there a more natural way to ease the pain, aside from the medication commonly prescribed?

In this article we’ll be answering the question of whether magnesium can help with sciatica. We’re often told about the importance of magnesium and similar minerals in our diet, but how exactly can it help with something as complex as the human pain response? That’s what we’ll be examining, diving into the human nervous system and how one element might affect it.

What is Sciatica?

The sciatic nerve is the longest and thickest in the body, stretching down from the bottom of the spinal column to below the knee. It’s important for transmitting sensation and impulses to the leg. As the sciatic nerve connects to the rest of the nervous system from the discs in the spine, it’s susceptible to be affected by certain back injuries, such as slipped and compressed discs in the lumbar area of the back. Pregnancy can also cause pressure to be applied to the nerve.

The word sciatica is predominantly used by doctors to describe a specifically kind of sensation that travels down the nerve: from the bottom of the spine, past the pelvic region and down the leg. Most often it’s just straight pain, but it can also be pins and needles, numbness or other unusual feelings. Of course, moving, walking – even sneezing – can exacerbate the pain, and it can be so intense for people that it can leave them bedridden.

The typical advice for anyone suffering from sciatica is to stretch regularly, remain active through the pain and attempt to maintain good posture while standing or sitting. However, these only tackle the symptoms and not the route cause, which are more serious than simple leg pain.

According to the NHS, sciatica usually clears by itself after 4-6 weeks. For many though, it’s a reoccurring issue that follows them through life, not to mention being extremely uncomfortable. Any opportunity to speed up healing or protect against future instances are attractive, but it’s important to separate fact from fiction.

Magnesium

We’ve all heard about it in our science classes, but what does magnesium do for the human body? As the fourth most abundant mineral in humans, it’s used in hundreds of reactions all over our bodies; the heart, muscles, the brain – everywhere.

In the muscles (including the heart) it helps relax them: calcium is used in the process on contraction, when it binds to certain proteins to change their shape inside muscle fibres. Magnesium competes with calcium to attach to these proteins, meaning less involuntary contractions. This explains one of the symptoms of magnesium deficiency: muscle spasms and cramps.

Magnesium’s also been observed to support blood pressure, with daily doses of around 450mg helping in cases of hypotension in those with diabetes. Speaking of diabetes, there’s been studies to suggest that it could help control blood sugar levels. Although saying this, more research needs to be completed before it becomes a commonly-recommended supplement for glucose regulation.

Magnesium and Nerves

What’s of interest to us, however, is what magnesium’s effects are on the brain and nervous system. This is where things get particularly interesting, as you might not know the sway this one element might have on your mind.

For one, there’s been a link between magnesium levels and depression, with those lacking in the mineral being more prone to it. Research is starting to build that supplementation could help treat depression, but it’s too early at this point to say for certain. There’s also evidence to show that it may aid sleep and soften migraines but, again, more research is vital to prove the link for certain. Even without concrete evidence, magnesium is seen to have an effect on the brain and nerves.

The part of nerve cells that magnesium has influence over are the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors. These have an important function in memory and in something called synaptic plasticity – the ability to strengthen and weaken signals travelling through cells. Both of these properties are major parts of learning and recollection, but nerve plasticity helps nerves fight off overstimulation. This may include the pain signals sent by an overactive sciatic nerve. Is this the case, or just an unproven theory?

What the Science Says

We have to listen to what experts have to say about the issue, and in this case, there’s very little to go on. Studies that look into magnesium and its relationship with sciatica are scarce: aside from a few papers written in the 1920s looking at direct injections of magnesium and their effect on peripheral nerves, the only other relevant study was conducted on animal participants.

This study looked into sciatic nerve regeneration in mice, and came away with some optimistic results. The mice (who had sciatic nerve injuries) were split into three groups, who were fed either a low, medium or high magnesium diet. The observation, as you might expect, was that those on a high magnesium diet had greater benefits, including “improved neurological function recovery and enhanced nerve regeneration” alongside a decrease in inflammation.

This might be heartening to read, but this is only one morsel of information to go on. Whilst there is evidence to suggest that magnesium has a positive effect on nerves, it’s a huge leap to say it can help with sciatica. Without properly-conducted human tests on the specific conditions in question we can’t draw a conclusion, and it would be irresponsible of us to suggest otherwise.

The human body is a complex machine, with the nerves being some of the most delicate and sensitive cells in it. Evidence for magnesium being able to help the nerves is there, but at this point in time most of the research is focused on its benefits in the brain – none off which is centred on pain or physical sensation.

Conclusion

Magnesium is an important mineral in the body – one we should be conscious of in our diet. It’s shown to have an important physical effect on our bodies, including our brains. This effect doesn’t emanate through the nervous system, though. With sciatica being painful and often debilitating, people might be looking for any other sources of relief, no matter how tenuous the link might be. So while magnesium does have a small effect on nervous system transmissions, it can’t help calm your sciatic nerve.

We still recommend magnesium as a daily supplement, considering its prevalence across the body: in the vast majority of our bones and muscles. If you’re looking for a way to help treat sciatica, your doctor will have the best advice for your personal needs. Don’t hesitate to book an appointment, especially if the pain gets worse, doesn’t fade after six weeks or is preventing you from living life normally.


Sources:
https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/sciatica/
https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/what-does-magnesium-do
https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/magnesium-deficiency-symptoms#section9
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21609904
https://journals.lww.com/jonmd/Citation/1926/08000/Treatment_of_Sciatica_By_Epidural_Injections_of.38.aspx
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19020533