Do Probiotics Help With Sciatica Pain Relief?

Sciatica, or sudden pain in the lower back or hip, is often treated with painkillers, muscle relaxants, or even steroids. People who prefer natural treatments may search for alternatives to treat their sciatica pain. In recent years, many people have included probiotic supplements in their wellness plans. Do probiotics help in relieving pain associated with sciatica? Let’s discuss the effects of probiotic therapy on sciatica pain relief.

Key takeaways:

What is sciatica?

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Patients suffering from sciatica often report low back pain that radiates towards the foot, and the pain often occurs only on one side. In some cases, severe pain may affect a patient’s mobility. Patients also experience sensory symptoms such as tingling sensations or numbness. Since the sciatic nerve is affected, sciatica is considered a type of neuropathic pain.

Sciatica commonly affects people aged 45–64 years. The risk factors associated with sciatica are mental stress, prolonged periods of driving, smoking, and strenuous physical activity, such as heavy lifting. Treatment for sciatica includes:

  • Bed rest
  • Physical therapy
  • Analgesics
  • Steroid injections
  • Surgery

Approximately 2% of the general population suffers from sciatica, meaning approximately 3 million individuals in the U.S. have this condition. Although most people report symptom relief in 3–12 months, about 30% of the patients experience symptoms for up to three years. People are looking for treatment options that will help them reduce sciatica pain and thereby avoid surgery.

What are probiotics?

Our diet plays a significant role in better pain management. Probiotics are living microbes — mainly bacteria and some viruses and fungi — that reside in the human gut. The composition of the gut microbiome depends largely on the diet and the lifestyle of the person. For instance, the bacterial strains found in the gut change when a person switches from a meat-based diet to a plant-based diet.

Food items such as kimchi or yogurt contain healthy bacteria. Including fermented food items such as sauerkraut, miso, or idli (fermented rice cake) helps in maintaining a healthy gut microbiome. However, for some people, probiotic supplements, available in powder or capsule forms, are a more convenient option.

The microbes in probiotic food or supplements conduct a variety of functions, such as the digestion of food, immune function, and absorption of vitamins. An increasing body of evidence suggests that probiotics may be effective in reducing the pain associated with various diseases, including neuropathic pain. Bacterial strains effective in reducing pain are:

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  • Lactobacillus
  • Bifidobacterium
  • Saccharomyces

In recent years, scientists have studied the gut-brain axis and its association with neuropathic pain. The gut microbiome plays a significant role in the function of the gut-brain axis. Scientists have hypothesized that by altering the composition of the gut microbiome, it may be possible to reduce the pain associated with sciatica.

Animal studies and probiotic therapy

In an animal study, researchers aimed to evaluate the pain-reducing effect of probiotics in neuropathic pain. The researchers also investigated the response of oxidative biomarkers to the probiotic treatment in rat models. The research group observed that probiotics decreased mechanic allodynia. Allodynia is pain due to a stimulus that usually is not painful e.g., light touch with cotton wool. Probiotic treatment also reduced exaggerated responses to hot and cold.

Another animal study in rats examined the effects of probiotic therapy in neuropathic pain, along with adipose-derived mesenchymal stem cells (ADMSCs) treatment. The study revealed that probiotic treatment was as effective as ADMSC treatment; the best results were achieved when both were given together.

The underlying physiological mechanism of how probiotics help to reduce pain in animal models is still unclear. Studies have suggested that probiotics help in the preservation of gut function. These physiological changes led to preventing nerve fiber loss and reducing inflammation, which ultimately led to the overall relief of neuropathic pain conditions. Another proposed mechanism of action is that probiotics help in correcting the dysfunction in the immune system.

Does probiotic therapy help in managing sciatica?

Overall, the results of animal trials have been promising. From these animal studies, scientists and clinicians hypothesize that if probiotics can help relieve sciatica pain in animals, then probiotics can also help humans with sciatica pain. However, as of 2023, no clinical trials have been done in humans to test the effectiveness of probiotic therapy for treating sciatica pain.

As such, probiotics are not yet a part of standard care for sciatica pain relief. However, given that probiotics have a beneficial effect on general wellness, patients with sciatica may be prescribed probiotic therapy by their care team. Researchers have noted that studying a patient’s microbiota would be essential before prescribing probiotics. Identifying bacterial strains beneficial to reducing pain depends on the patient’s existing microbiota.

Sciatica pain can become severe and reduce a patient’s mobility. Given its effect on quality of life, patients need to address their sciatica pain early on. Although animal trials have shown promising results currently, probiotic therapy for sciatica pain has not been tested in humans. Consult your doctor to discuss your sciatica pain and treatment options beneficial to you.

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