Your sciatic nerve runs from the small of your back through your bottom and down each leg. It starts at your coccyx and exits this small bone through a narrow opening called a foramen. An injury or illness that narrows the foramen can irritate the sciatic nerve and cause pain, tingling, and numbness — sciatica.
Dr. Dinash Yanamadula at Princeton Pain & Spine Institute specializes in resolving sciatica pain. Depending on the source of the problem and the intensity of your symptoms, he may recommend nerve blocks or steroid injections that bathe the nerve in pain-relieving medication.
However, Dr. Yanamadula often helps many patients manage sciatica through diet.
The link between sciatica and diet
Whether your sciatica stems from a structural problem like a herniated disc, a disease like fibromyalgia, or a lifestyle issue like prolonged time at a desk, it all boils down to inflammation. There’s very little space to spare in your spine, especially in the foramen where your nerves exit the column. Inflamed tissue compresses your nerves and causes pain until the inflammation resolves.
Here is where your diet comes in.
Some foods promote inflammation, while others discourage it. If you’re like most Americans, you eat a lot of foods that keep your body in a constant state of inflammation, which can exacerbate sciatica and other conditions.
Foods to avoid if you have sciatica
The list of foods to avoid when you have sciatica is short, but the ingredients are often hidden in packaged foods — so get used to reading labels.
Complex carbs are good for energy but stay away from processed carbs that have been stripped of their fiber. Refined carbs found in white rice and flour, cereal, and some corn products promote gut bacteria that lead to inflammation.
Sugar should only be an occasional treat. Not only is it high in calories, but it also promotes inflammation, especially high-fructose corn syrup, which can hide in your favorite foods, so read the labels.
Some oils are fine to consume — olive oil, avocado oil, flaxseed oil, and walnut oil are healthy. However, other oils that have been highly processed and milled with the use of chemicals are difficult for your body to metabolize, leading to inflammation. Stay away from canola, sunflower, safflower, and soybean oils.
Unlike animal fat, trans fats are artificially produced using an industrial process that makes them last a long time. Restaurants often use trans fat in their deep fryers because they can reuse the oil multiple times. Trans fats lead to inflammation and high cholesterol. Look for “partially hydrogenated oils” in products like margarine, lard, and shortening.
If you’re noticing a pattern with the word “processed,” you’re onto something. The more processed your food is, the more likely it is to induce inflammation. Processed meats include bacon, jerky, hot dogs, sausage, cold cuts, and smoked meats.
In moderation, a glass of wine now and then can actually deliver some health benefits, but excess alcohol consumption damages your liver, weakens your immune system, increases your risk for heart attack and stroke, and causes tissue inflammation.
Foods to eat if you have sciatica
Some foods actually fight inflammation and can be a great resource as you manage your sciatica symptoms. Try these:
- Green tea
- Fish rich in Omega-3 fatty acids (salmon and halibut)
- Vitamin K (brocolli and spinach)
- Vitamin A (carrots, sweet potatoes, low-fat dairy)
- Vitamin B (poultry, red meat, eggs, nuts)
- Vitamin C (citrus, peppers, and strawberries)
Certain seasonings can reduce inflammation as well. As you’re cooking your meal, sprinkle in some turmeric, ginger, or garlic to give an anti-inflammatory boost.
Dr. Yanamadula may also recommend supplements to help you get the right quantities of these anti-inflammatory ingredients in your diet.
Call us today or request an appointment online to learn more about managing sciatica. We have two offices in Lawrenceville and Edgewater, New Jersey.