Updated: November 14, 2022
According to the 2011 National Diabetes Fact Sheet, over 8% of the U.S. population suffers from diabetes. This number is on the rise, with the CDC reporting that a third of children born in 2000 are expected to develop the disease at some point in their lives. Sedentary lifestyles and poor diets are responsible for the increasing rate of diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is by far the most prevalent. Type 1 occurs due to an immune disorder that leads to the destruction of cells that produce insulin in the body. Type 2 diabetes is associated with either a lack of insulin production or the body’s inability to use insulin properly. Insulin is responsible for moving glucose from the blood into cells. A deficiency of insulin or improper usage thereof causes high levels of glucose to build up in the blood, while cells go without. Type 2 diabetes is a diet-related disease.
Diabetes and Sciatica
One of the many complications that may arise from diabetes is peripheral neuropathy, which is pain, numbness or tingling in the limbs of the body caused by nerve damage. The exact mechanisms aren’t understood, but high blood glucose levels are known to adversely affect nerve function. The 2011 Fact Sheet states that 60-70% of diabetics have some level of nervous system damage. The sciatic nerve, the largest in the body, is often affected by diabetes. It runs from the lumbar spine down to the foot on each side of the body.
Sciatica may be common in diabetics not only because of high glucose levels but because of excess weight. Being overweight is a risk factor both for diabetes and sciatica. Excess pressure on the spine can compress spinal discs, which can cause them to bulge or herniate. The discs may interfere with nerves as they exit the spine.
If you have diabetes and feel either pain, numbness or tingling in the lower back that travels down the leg, you likely have sciatica. Symptoms of diabetes are increased thirst, constant hunger, fatigue and slow healing. If you experience these in conjunction with sciatica symptoms but don’t know if you’re diabetic, it’s a good idea to get tested.
Treating Diabetic Sciatica
The best way to treat sciatica caused by diabetes is to treat diabetes. In our culture, medicine is often seen as the first and last line of defense. However, medication should be seen as a temporary measure while pursuing changes in diet and lifestyle as a more permanent treatment. Losing weight and giving your body foods that are easier to process can reduce or even eliminate your need to use medicine to control diabetes.
The prime focus of any diabetes diet plan is keeping carbohydrate intake low and consistent, since carbs are converted to glucose in the body. It is important to eat only a small amount of carbs at a time and to eat them at regular times each day to prevent a spike in blood glucose levels.
Fat levels must be kept in check as well to ease the burden on the pancreas and liver. Saturated fats should be strictly limited while trans fats should be avoided altogether.
A dietician can help you work out a plan that ensured you get the nutrients your body needs while avoiding unhealthy foods. Light exercise will likely be part of your treatment; adding a 30-minute walk into your day can get your metabolism going and help you lose weight.
Some herbal supplements may help to naturally lower blood sugar levels, but studies on alternative medicine for diabetes are few and far between. Also, when considering a supplement to lower blood glucose, be sure to talk with your doctor; if these supplements are combined with medication, they may cause glucose levels to drop too low. See the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine’s page at http://nccam.nih.gov/health/diabetes/CAM-and-diabetes.htm for information on supplements for diabetics.
Treating diabetes and the problems it causes requires a commitment to lifestyle changes. While diet and exercise may not be enough to manage your condition initially, they can eventually reduce or eliminate your reliance on medication by enabling your body to function properly on its own.
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