For thousands of years, turmeric maintained prominence in Ayurvedic medicine, one of the oldest practices in the world. The concept of using natural herbs and spices for their healing properties is not a new one. With so many options available, which medicinal herbs are the best?
Curcuma longa is a species of ginger originating in Southeast Asia, which contains the powerful turmeric rhizome within its roots. Turmeric powder contains curcumin, the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent responsible for most of its health benefits.
But, can turmeric help back pain, and can it relieve pain from sciatica and herniated disks?
Turmeric for Back Pain
Research continues to emerge, demonstrating significant benefits in using turmeric for conditions characterized by inflammation like asthma and allergies, IBS, and IBD. Curcumin can even help relieve fibromyalgia and muscle pain and arthritis and joint pain.
Recent studies suggest that turmeric can also help with upper and lower back pain. Curcumin has the potential to reduce inflammation and discomfort associated with sciatic nerve pain, spinal cord injuries, and back pain related to herniated disks. (1)
What is Sciatica?
Sciatica refers to the radiating pain originating down the sciatic nerve, which travels from your lower back (lumbar) through the hips and buttocks, and finally down each leg. During painful flare-ups, sciatica often only impacts one side of the body.
Sciatica usually transpires when a bone spur, a herniated disk, or the narrowing of the spine (spinal stenosis) compresses some part of the nerve. When the nerve is compressed, or pinched, this causes a tremendous amount of pain, numbness, and inflammation in the affected leg.
Several risk factors may raise your chances of developing sciatic nerve pain. They are:
- Age: Changes in the spine related to age, such as bone spurs or herniated disks, are a common cause of sciatica.
- Obesity: Excess weight increases spinal stress and can trigger changes in the integrity of the spine. A weight loss regimen can help prevent this particular risk factor.
- Occupation: Work that requires heavy lifting, twisting, turning, or extended periods of motor vehicle operation may increase the odds of developing sciatica.
- Prolonged Sitting: People with sedentary lifestyles characterized by lengthy periods of sitting are more likely to develop sciatica compared to active individuals.
- Diabetes: This condition affects the body’s ability to utilize sugar, which may increase your risk of nerve damage. Lowering blood sugar can help preserve nerve function.
Most individuals make a full recovery from sciatica, but it’s essential to seek medical attention if the condition worsens over time. Exercise regularly, maintain good posture, and use anti-inflammatories to help improve the back pain and discomfort. (2)
What is a Herniated Disk?
The term “herniated disk” describes extreme difficulty with one of the rubbery cushions, or disks, between the vertebrae that comprise the spine. A spinal disk contains a jellylike center (nucleus) surrounded by a tough and rubbery exterior called an annulus.
Often called a ruptured disk or a slipped disk, these names refer to the same condition where the nucleus protrudes through a torn annulus and irritates a nearby nerve. A herniated disk may lead to uncomfortable symptoms such as arm or leg pain, numbness or tingling, and weakness.
Like sciatica, risk factors include excess body weight, sedentary jobs, and genetic predisposition. Smoking may also play a role as it lessens oxygen flow to disks, leading them to break down prematurely. (3)
Why Turmeric Curcumin?
Research has shown that using turmeric for inflammation may target flare-ups and painful bouts with upper and lower back pain. By reducing the body’s natural inflammatory response, it’s thought that curcumin may help relieve pain.
Turmeric is also a powerful antioxidant capable of improving our immune system response. It’s important to note; curcumin will not repair herniated disks, sciatica, or physical problems with the spine. But, it may reduce inflammation, improve oxygen and nutrient flow, and promote the healing process.
In this post, we’ll cover the studies demonstrating the effect turmeric has on reducing back pain, sciatic nerve pain, and discomfort associated with herniated disks and spinal injuries.
Turmeric and Back Pain: Is Curcumin Good for Sciatic Nerve Pain?
Despite considerable efforts, the current treatment methodology for spinal cord injury (SCI) is largely supportive. Spinal cord injury is a type of neurotrauma that brings delayed scarring along with acute and chronic inflammation and back pain, making regeneration and therapy extremely difficult.
One study compared curcumin’s anti-inflammatory properties against leading treatment options for SCI. The results showed that curcumin could increase the likelihood of functional improvements and back pain reduction using multiple mechanisms of action.
Turmeric performs this task by stimulating the proliferation of the spinal cord’s neural stem cells, and by reducing free radical-mediated damage to the spinal cord. Curcumin also directly targets the inflammation associated with SCI, which helps expedite the healing process. (4, 5)
Another study examined curcumin’s effects on the sciatic nerve pain threshold in a group of 120 male rats. Following 14 days of curcumin administration, the study showed substantial decreases in the presence of NF-κB, a significant mediator of inflammation.
This result suggests that turmeric may help improve neuropathic pain by inhibiting proinflammatory cytokines. In other words, it may reduce the lower back pain frequently associated with sciatica. (6)
Curcumin appears to be an excellent natural remedy to manage pain by reducing inflammation and enhancing antioxidant capacity with minimal side effects. This benefit makes it useful for day to day aches and pains, but also for post-surgical recovery.
Further research shows an additional, lesser-known mechanism of action that often contributes to lower levels of back pain. Turmeric may mitigate pain linked to depression by reversing negative changes in serotonin levels. (7)
There aren’t a significant amount of studies using turmeric exclusively for upper and lower back pain. However, it’s important to note how curcumin behaves within the body when deciding whether or not it may help treat your specific ailment.
Most back pain derives from the inflammatory response and free radical damage within the body. Research has shown that turmeric is one of the most powerful natural anti-inflammatory agents in existence. Its constituent, curcumin, is also a potent antioxidant with numerous molecular targets that may help with back pain relief. (8, 9, 10)
Turmeric for Back Pain Dosage
The correct turmeric dosage for back pain depends on the severity of your condition. Curcumin supplements are generally considered safe and well-tolerated, even at higher doses. We recommend you consume between 500-2,000 mg of curcumin per day for the best results.
Make sure to get turmeric and black pepper together when purchasing your supplement. The addition of piperine significantly increases the absorption of curcumin. Without a bioavailability enhancer such as piperine, your body will have a difficult time fully utilizing the product.
Final Thoughts on Turmeric for Lower & Upper Back Pain
Can turmeric help with upper and lower back pain, sciatica, and herniated disks? The answer appears to be yes. Studies show that curcumin is an excellent all-natural anti-inflammatory that may help modulate and manage pain.
If you’re having difficulties with back pain, contact a doctor or certified medical professional to discuss the possibility of incorporating turmeric into your daily regimen.