Contributions by Keelan Schmidley, Clinical Expert and Molly Moore, Marketing Coordinator.
What is Sciatica Pain?
Sciatica pain is a common condition among the population and originates from irritation to the sciatica nerve from injuries that can include a herniated or slipped disc(s), spinal stenosis, and Piriformis syndrome. Because the sciatic nerve travels from your lower back and through your hips, buttocks, and down each leg, symptoms are often described in various ways depending on where the nerve is irritated. For example, some describe the pain as sharp or shooting, while others describe it as burning or stabbing. Furthermore, depending on the underlying cause, pain can either come suddenly or gradually.
Despite its varied presentation, sciatica pain is often more severe in the leg compared to the lower back. It typically worsens when standing/sitting for long periods of time. Sudden movements such as a cough or sneeze are also known to exacerbate pain. Normal aging increases the chance of experiencing sciatica, but those with a previous low back injury, weak core musculature, or diabetes, as well as those who are overweight, are at greater risk for experiencing sciatica pain.
Looking for immediate, at-home relief?
It is estimated that as many as 40% of adults in the US experience sciatica over a lifetime. While there is no magic bullet, there are some steps you can take to reduce your pain.
Over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatory drugs can help with pain, swelling, and inflammation. This includes aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), naproxen (Aleve), etc., unlike acetaminophen (Tylenol), which only relieves pain. Applying topical OTC medications directly to the pain can also help to provide relief.
Applying ice or hot packs
Apply ice for 20 min several times a day. After the first several days, start to apply heat for 20 minutes at a time. If your pain continues, begin to switch between hot and cold packs. Use a towel or a similar barrier to protect your skin when using ice or heat.
Be mindful of your posture
If you notice the pain is triggered during more extended periods of sitting or standing, take a moment to readjust your posture. Creating a habit of becoming more aware of your posture and changing positions every 20 minutes can help take pressure off your spine to create instant sciatica relief.
Gentle stretches, massage, and exercises – emphasis on gentle.
Research suggests that resting too much can worsen your back and leg symptoms. A walk around the block is an excellent example of a simple way to keep moving and strengthen the core and spine. Cat-cow, bird-dog, and seated forward bend stretches are great ways to stretch the sciatica nerve and relieve pain.
Give yourself a Massage
Secure two tennis balls next to each other with enough duct tape to secure the balls in a peanut-like shape. Place the tennis balls under your upper thigh, buttock, or back while you lie on the floor and gently move around to find your sore muscle groups. Once you identify a tender spot, focus and press the area gently.
Long-Term Relief and Prevention
While immediate relief works for everyday flare-ups, long-term solutions and prevention options are a great way to keep pain at bay.
Many sources of sciatica pain can be prevented through good posture, regular exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight. Long-term pain management solutions can include:
If the pain is constant and becoming unbearable, see a doctor and ask what medication options are available to you. In some cases, steroid and pain injections or medication help reduce inflammation and pain from sciatica.
Physical therapy is a great way to get personalized treatment plans that include exercises, stretches, manual therapy, and many other techniques. Consistent visits to a physical therapist can help strengthen and condition your core, lower back, and legs while keeping the pain at ease and sometimes even eliminating it altogether.
If sciatica pain is hindering you from your daily activities, visit your local PRN clinic for a free consultation and treatment plan today.