I have had many patients tell me that they experience a combination of lower back pain and an unpleasant radiating tingle down one leg and sometimes into the foot or toes. These symptoms are called sciatica, and they typically stem from a disk problem in the lower back.

Debbie, a 57-year-old writer and mother of two, experienced constant lower back pain, a sharp pain down her right leg, plus numbness in her right foot and toes. Also, her left hip felt as if it were constantly about to "go out." The pain caused her to limp, and she used a cane to help her walk.

A doctor prescribed painkillers, which helped to alleviate Debbie's discomfort. A chiropractor provided some relief, but the pain and numbness remained. Debbie's back pain had accelerated after she spent two days in a hospital bed, being treated for diabetes-related complications.

After examining Debbie, I told her I was concerned that she had a compression of one or more of the disks (collagen and gel pads that cushion the bones of the spine) in her lower back. I referred her to a neurologist, who ordered a magnetic resonance imaging (MRD scan to view the spine. Sure enough, she had two bulging disks that were squashing the nerve roots as they exit the spine. The pressure was causing her back pain and sciatica. Additional nerve tests showed that there was decreased nerve sensation to the right foot.

I suggested Debbie try spinal decompression, a procedure that is gaining popularity among chiropractors and some osteopathic doctors. The treatment works by creating negative pressure

-essentially, a vacuum-inside the disk to pull in the bulge or herniation (when a disk has actually broken open), relieving pressure on the affected nerves. Spinal decompression also increases the flow of blood and nutrients back into the disk, allowing the body to heal the injury.

How it works: The patient lies down fully clothed on his/her back or stomach, with pads comfortably securing the upper body and pelvis. Computer-controlled tension stretches the lower back, separating the vertebrae by miniscule increments and creating the vacuum effect.

The treatments are painless. Each lasts 15 to 30 minutes, and patients usually require a series of 15 to 30 visits, one to three per week.

Cost: $80 to $100 per visit. You can find a practitioner through the American Spinal Decompression Association (888-577-4625, www.americanspinal.com).

Note: Spinal decompression is not advised for people with severe osteoporosis or nerve damage, pregnant women or those who are very obese.

Debbie noticed great relief after just five treatments. After her 20th treatment, she reported a substantial improvement in her back pain and sciatica. She also began to feel sensation in her right toes and foot again. She is 80% improved and continuing the treatments.

Acupuncture Eases Back Pain

In a study of 1,162 people with chronic low back I pain, one group received acupuncture and another group received conventional therapy using painkillers, physical therapy and exercise. Those who had 10 half-hour acupuncture sessions over six weeks were nearly twice as likely to report improvements in pain and functional ability as patients given conventional therapy.

Theory: Acupuncture triggers a pain-dulling response by the central nervous system.

If you have chronic low back pain: Ask your doctor if you should try acupuncture.

Back Pain Relief from A Vitamin!

After taking vitamin D supplements for three H months, 95% of patients with chronic back pain reported improvement. Low levels of vitamin D may soften bone surfaces, leading to pain. Increasing vitamin D improves calcium absorption and bone health.

Best: Ask your doctor about taking 1,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D-3 daily...or 2,000 IU daily if you have back pain.

Omega-3s Relieve Pain As Well as Drugs

Omega-3s, found in fish and fish oil supplements, block inflammation and accompanying pain.

Study: 60% of participants with neck or back pain who were given 1,200 milligrams (mg) of fish oil per day reported relief after two to four weeks, and almost all of that group were able to discontinue their use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as Vioxx and Motrin. The study also found that most patients taking fish oil had no significant side effects.

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