Tips to relieve sciatic pain
Posted on September 18, 2013
Has it ever felt like someone was sticking a hot poker into your leg?
If either of these scenarios is familiar to you, you've probably suffered from sciatica, a pain in the sciatic nerve.
To understand and defeat the beast that is sciatica, it will be helpful to understand what it is and what causes it.
No one experiencing sciatica wants it to stick around any longer than, well, at all, so let's not delay in discovering how you can make your leg pain a distant memory.
The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in your body, which starts in the low back and travels all the way down your legs to the bottom of your feet.
It controls nearly everything within your legs: from the large hamstring and quadriceps muscles in your upper legs to the smallest blood vessels in the bottom of your feet.
Sciatica is simply an irritation of the sciatic nerve.
This can happen several different ways at a few different points in the nerve's journey from the lower back to and through the leg.
Frequently, sciatic nerve pain is a result of the joints in your lower spine being poorly aligned and putting pressure or stretching on the nerves as they come off from your spine.
This problem is called a subluxation and is diagnosed and treated by chiropractors.
Sciatica can also commonly occur due to spasm of a muscle in the buttock called the piriformis muscle.
The sciatic nerve passes under this muscle as it travels through the pelvis near the hip down to the back of your leg.
This problem is frequently treated by physical therapists, chiropractors and massage therapists.
If you aren't able to get in to the chiropractor or physical therapist right away or you hope to help improve your situation
Give it a rest. Exercise is a great asset to getting and staying healthy, but when your sciatic nerve is unhappy, exercise will frequently flare up your problem and slow your progress.
Exercise which causes pounding, such as walking, running, tennis, basketball, soccer, etc., may flare the piriformis spasm and put additional strain on the spine in the lower part of the back.
Take a break from your regular exercise routine to give your sciatic nerve a break.
If you simply must exercise, try non-impact exercises of the upper body. Swimming may be a helpful alternative to your regular routine as well.
Stretch yourself. Relaxing the muscles in the lower back, buttocks and upper legs through stretching will help reduce the strain on the sciatic nerve and the joints throughout the lower back and pelvis. Always stretch gently and avoid any further stretching if it causes sharp pain or if it aggravates your problem.
Rollers are a simple, but effective way to exercise and stretch the piriformis muscle.
Stretching the piriformis muscle can be done several different ways. But the best approach is to use an exercise roller. These low-cost exercisers are perfect for stretching and loosening the piriformis. Plus, it's good for other exercises as well.
Body stretching devices can really help you keep proper alignment while stretching
Chill out. Ice will be your best friend when you are suffering from sciatica. Placing a cold pack or ice pack on the lower spine, tailbone and/or buttock for 20 minutes once every 2-3 hours will help reduce swelling and also reduce pain.
It is important to use ice exclusively at the onset of sciatica, as it has been found to decrease the length of time needed for healing.
If after 4-5 days you choose to alternate ice and heat, keep it off from the spine and limit heat use, especially with a heating pad, to no more than 20 minutes.
Avoid sleeping while applying heat, as it can cause burns and can dry out the tissues, slowing the healing process.
Get it straight. Your posture plays an important role in the health of your spine. Sitting and standing as straight as is comfortably possible will help to reduce the effects of nerve irritation and get your nerves healing quicker and more completely.
Instead, drag a kitchen chair into the living room and spend your time sitting in a more supportive chair. Use a back support cushion in every chair you sit in; whether at work, in the car or at home to help support your back properly.
Move it! While sitting in a straight-back chair is helpful in supporting your lower back and spine, be sure that you aren't sitting for any longer than 15-20 minutes at a time. Lack of movement in the joints of the spine especially can cause further damage, stiffness and muscle strain.
Getting up and moving frequently, even if only to stretch or walk gently around the room will help to keep circulation fresh and facilitate a quicker recovery.
Be sure that you stay well within your limits; if you are pushing yourself too hard and it is causing pain, then stop and give yourself a rest.
Replace your wallet. Have you ever heard of wallet sciatica?
This is the term doctors use to describe the sharp, stabbing pain some men experience from sitting on a fat wallet for extended periods of time. So while a fat wallet full of cash may be good, it may also be causing that sciatic pain! Switch to a back-saving thin wallet instead.
Get some sleep. Sleep is one of the most critical components in helping start and in maintaining a healing process. When you sleep, your body does its best work of healing and repairs the damage done throughout the day.
Following any injury or during any illness, regular sleep is critical in helping your body get the upper hand.
A new pillow is a safe, easy way to get a more restful, comfortable sleep.
Put on some relief. Topical analgesics can help alleviate some of the bite of the pain of sciatica while helping soothe the spasm in the muscles of the low back, buttocks and upper leg.
Getting even temporary relief from your sciatica can help your healing process by providing you an opportunity to rest or sleep.
Drink like a fish. To drink like a fish, you need to drink what a fish drinks: water, lots and lots of water. When your body isn't hydrated properly, the tissues become tacky and adhesions form. If adhesions form, this slows the healing process and causes increased scar formation.
Adhesions can form between your sciatic nerve and the surrounding tissues, causing your healing process to be incomplete and leaving you vulnerable to frequent, repeated sciatic episodes.
Pain patches can also deliver anti-inflammatory medicine, without the stomach irritation and other side effects.
Go for a massage. It stands to reason that if your sciatica is due to irritation of the sciatic nerve from spasm of your piriformis, hamstring or lower back muscles, deep tissue massage can be of great benefit to you.
Getting a massage or even using a massager at home that is able to get into the deeper tissues of the buttocks and low back may help relieve some or all of your sciatic pain. Some find it useful to use roll on pain relievers as part of the massage. At the very least, it can help to reduce the stress that commonly accumulates when you are in pain.
Get professional help. It is always a good idea to seek help from a chiropractor, medical doctor, physical therapist or massage therapist when you experience pain in the low back and/or legs. Waiting too long to effectively treat a condition involving your nerves can cause problems as mild as missing time from work all the way up to irreversible nerve damage.
It is wise to effectively and completely deal with any problems involving your nerves, as doing so will help prevent similar problems from rearing their ugly head again down the road.
Conclusion. As you can see, sciatica is not an easy problem to treat. It is a very complex condition that evades an easy cure. That's the bad news.
The good news is that you are not without options. Rest, exercise, cushions. and topical analgesics are all good ways to deal with this condition.
For more information, we've set up a page full of sciatica care product ideas.
Remember, sciatica is a difficult, complex condition to treat. Try three or four things before deciding what works best for you.
Frequently Asked Sciatica Questions
What is the best way to relieve sciatic pain?
There is no single best way to relieve it, unfortunately. While there are many “doctors” on the Internet claiming to have a cure, the reality is that sciatic pain is difficult to treat, and what works for one person will not work for another.
Are there exercises for sciatica? Are there stretches for sciatica?
Yes in the sense that gentle, careful stretching may be a good way to alleviate the pain in the near-term.
So while some folks may experience relief after a short amount of proper stretching, this is typically not a long-term solution.
So a longer-term solution involves any combination of exercises which helps you lose weight; and strengthens the core muscles, especially the lower back and abdomen
How you do this is up to you. Anything from gentle exercises, such as yoga and Tai Chi can be a good place to start. Walking, swimming, and cycling are good for both weight loss and cardiac training. More aggressive exercises, such as running, can be incorporated as your fitness levels allow.
We really like an app called Sworkit for in-home core circuit training.
Can fish oil help sciatica?
Fish oil can be a great anti-inflammatory for many conditions. However, if you’re looking at fish oil as a way to quickly reduce the inflammation that’s causing the sciatica, then you will be disappointed.
We don’t recommend using fish oil for sciatica simply because fish oil is not strong enough to tackle sciatica. Fish oil, when taken daily, is an excellent anti-inflammatory for arthritis and other conditions, but not sciatica.
Is there a sciatica pillow you can recommend?
We get this question a lot. Unfortunately, we have not seen a good sciatica pillow that actually works. We do not recommend using foam contoured donut pillows. A softer, convoluted donut pillow may help. But the best thing for sciatica is to avoid remaining seated for extended periods of time.
We’ve had some folks try their water pillow under their buttocks and lower back as a way to get more sleep with sciatica. If you happen to have a water pillow, then by all means give it a try. But the water pillows are not really designed for this use.
So how can I sleep with sciatica?
If you need pain relief right now, then the ideas we discuss above (ice, topical pain relievers) may be your best bet. An over-the-counter pain reliever, like ibuprofen 200 milligrams, may also help.
But again, these are not long-term solutions. Plus, we’re not big fans of popping pills, since even over-the-counter pain pills are loaded with side effects.
Try lower back pain patches instead. Imbue is a great alternative to ibuprofen pills. Try cutting a patch in half, and apply one half to the buttock area, and a second half the the upper part of the back of the leg.
After reading this article, make sure to visit our page dedicated to our sciatica care product ideas.
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