Lower back pain is a common disorder, affecting up to 80% of people during their lifetime.1 According to Ayurveda, the lower back is ruled by a subtype of Vata, known as Apana Vata, or ‘downwards flowing wind’. Apana Vata is centred in the colon, pelvis and lumbosacral region of the lower back. Here, Vata has found its natural throne from where it governs a variety of physiological functions, including movement in the lower back, hips and thighs, and all excretion (faeces, urine, menstruation, etc.)
The dry quality of Vata, in excess, can lead to weakness and changes in the structure of the spinal joints.
Focus on Sciatica
Sciatica is known in Ayurveda as ‘Grdhrasi’, meaning ‘vulture’. This descriptive name refers to the limping gait of a person suffering from sciatica, due to the excruciating pain. The meaning of Vata is ‘that which spreads’. It is said in Ayurveda that “where there is pain, there is Vata”. Sciatica is a classic example of a Vata disorder: although the problem starts in the lower back, the pain spreads down the leg.
Ayurveda offers a range of treatment options for sciatica and lower back pain:
A treatment of the lower back, unique to Ayurveda. ‘Kati’ refers to the lower back and ‘Basti’ means ‘to hold’. Flour dough is used to form a well on the lower back, which is filled with warm oil. The oil is kept warm by continuously replacing it as it cools. The warm oil increases blood circulation in the area, relaxing the muscles, relieving pain, improving movement and reducing stiffness.
Massage & Steam Therapy
A traditional Ayurvedic full body massage (Abhyanga) helps to relieve tension in the muscles. Different medicated herbal oils are used, which are absorbed through the skin to nourish the body. Abhyanga is traditionally followed by steaming therapy – either localised or of the entire body – to further soften and relax muscles.
By inserting herbal oil or a decoction (herbal preparation) into the colon in the form of therapeutic enemas, excess Vata is removed from its main seat in the pelvic area. Both the rectum and colon have a very rich blood and lymph supply that allows for effective absorption. Studies have shown that substances delivered by enemas are more effectively passed into the general blood stream than by oral administration, as it bypasses metabolism in the liver.2
The following herbs are often used for reducing Vata in the lower back region (Note: always consult an Ayurvedic practitioner as every case is different):
- Castor oil (Ricinus Communis): its mildly purgative effect helps to reduce Vata.
- Dashamula: a renowned traditional herbal combination of ten roots.
- Ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera): one of the most popular Ayurvedic herbs; nourishing, rejuvenating and reduces pain.
- Guggulu (Commifora Mukul): a gum resin obtained from a small tree; has strong pain reducing and anti-inflammatory properties, widely used for joints.
Lower back pain and sciatica can be effectively treated by Ayurveda in a great many cases, reducing the necessity for pain killers and even surgery or spinal injections. In addition to treatments like those described above, a practitioner will also advise dietary and lifestyle changes to avoid the causes of what increased Vata in the first place. Thus, the whole body may be brought back into balance.
1. Anderson, M.K. (2016): Foundations of Athletic Training: Prevention, Assessment, and Management 6th edition. Alphen aan den Rijn: Wolters Kluwer Health. Ch. 11.
2. Sudesh, G. et al (2012): Effect of Matra Basti and Katibasti in the Management of Lumbar Disc Disease. International Journal of Pharmaceutical & Biological Archives 2012; 3(5):1271-1277.