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The sciatic nerve passes out from the lower back into the hips, buttocks and then through each leg. Sciatica is when pain is experienced along the pathway of the sciatic nerve, and typically affects one side of the body. Causes of sciatica include herniated disk, or bone spur, resulting in nerve compression, inflammation, numbness and pain. Symptoms of sciatica are pain in thebuttocks and leg, numbness, or “pins and needles” sensation; symptoms may last for several weeks.
Other risk factors for sciatica include normal wear and tear from advanced age, obesity, back injury, sedentary lifestyle and diabetes.
Sciatica is diagnosed with physical examination for muscle strength and reflexes, and imaging tests, including X-rays, Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computerized tomography (CT).
Self-care measure for sciatica include rest, heat or cold applications and the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g. ibuprofen, aspirin). Muscle relaxants, narcotics, tricyclic antidepressants and anti-seizure medications can be prescribed for the relief of symptoms. Physical therapy exercises can provide posture correction, strengthen back muscles and improve flexibility in patients. Individuals, who experience severe or persistent pain, may be administered steroid injection in the area to control inflammation. However, the effect is not long-lasting, and repeated injections are not advisable due to side effects.
The majority of sciatica cases tend to resolve with self-care measures and conservative treatment strategies. However, if the pain persists even after 6 weeks of therapy, surgery may be necessary. Surgery can provide relief by removing bone spurs or parts of the herniated disc that presses on the sciatic nerve. The side effects of surgery include a long recovery period, anesthesia complications, and the possibility of another disc rupture in the future.
It is estimated that 1 in 50 individuals experience a herniated disc in their lifetime, of whom 10 – 25 % have symptoms lasting for greater than 6 weeks. For those patients who require surgery for persistent sciatica, stem cell therapy may be an attractive alternative treatment.
Stem cells are primitive cells that can undergo differentiation to form different types of cells in the body, such as bone, blood, cartilage, tendon, ligaments, etc. These cells are responsible for healing tissue damages by generating new healthy cells. However, with age, the body loses its ability to attract enough stem cells to the site of injury. In this regard, stem cell therapy delivers a high concentration of stem cells to the affected area to promote natural healing.
Exciting new research has shown the healing property of human stem cells for sciatic nerve injury in an animal model. The research was conducted at the Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and the results show that human muscle-derived stem cells could generate non-neuronal support cells in the treated mice, which in turn helped repair damaged nerve fibers. Unlike the untreated mice group, at 12 weeks post treatment, the treated group displayed regenerated sciatic nerve function.
Other researchers from China also demonstrated that acellular nerve allografts along with stem cell therapy can lead to repair of sciatic nerve damage in an animal model. This study used bone marrow derived stem cells, and the findings revealed that the test animals had significant improvement in motor function following stem cell therapy.
Amniotic and Umbilical Cord Stem Cell Treatments
The most revolutionary regenerative medicine treatments now being offered include amniotic and umbilical stem cell treatments. These are FDA regulated and contain growth factors, hyaluronic acid, cytokines and stem cells.