If you’re experiencing sciatic nerve pain, you’re not alone. Millions of people deal with symptoms that range from tingling to agonizing 24-hour pain. Sciatica is common, and it’s hard to handle.
What Is Sciatic Nerve Pain?
Sciatic nerve pain is also known as sciatica, and it’s caused by pressure on the sciatic nerve. This nerve, which is medically called the nervus ischiadicus, is one of the largest in the body, so it’s no wonder it can cause so much pain and upset.
Any pain or sensations that begin in the lower back and spread down through your buttocks and legs may be caused by your sciatic nerve.
Pain is common, as is tingling and numbness, but whatever your sciatic symptoms, there are ways to help deal with the pain and potentially prevent it from happening in the first place.
What Causes Sciatic Nerve Pain?
Sciatic nerve pain occurs when your sciatic nerve is pressed or rubbed. There are a variety of ways this can happen, ranging from injury to degenerative disease.
- A herniated disc – when the tissue padding between vertebrae pushes out
- Spondylolisthesis – slipped vertebrae
- Spinal Stenosis – narrowing of the spinal column where sciatic nerve passes through
- Osteophytes – small bony growths that poke the sciatic nerve
- Arthritis in the spine – a degenerative breakdown of cartilage between the bones
You may have heard pregnant women say they are suffering from sciatica.
Pregnancy is often cited as a reason for nerve pain, but babies don’t press on the sciatic nerve—they are in the wrong place, for starters.
Pregnant ladies feel lots of aches and pains from the pelvic girdle, which can feel similar.
What Are the Symptoms of Sciatica?
Sciatic nerve symptoms can feel severe enough to stop you from carrying out day-to-day activities and can even get to the point where they prevent walking and sleeping.
Here are the most common symptoms:
- Pain in the lower back that may extend into your legs
- Numbness or tingling in your lower back, buttocks, and legs
- Feeling stiff and uncomfortable
- Difficulty exercising or moving around
Sciatic symptoms can come and go depending on how the sciatic nerve is affected.
It can clear up completely in around six weeks if your body is able to deal with an injury—such as a slipped disc, for example—but if the reason is degenerative, such as arthritis, the symptoms can remain long term.
Can I Prevent Sciatica?
Activities such as yoga, Pilates, the Alexander technique, and other gently stretching muscle relaxers can help keep your spine and sciatic nerve in the best shape possible as we get older.
Moving around and exercising will strengthen your back muscles so that sciatica is less likely. However, sometimes it’s just plain bad luck.
An accident or degenerative disease like spinal stenosis can mean you have to deal with sciatic nerve pain despite keeping yourself in tip-top shape.
8 Tips to Ease Sciatic Nerve Pain
It’s not all bad news, because sciatic nerve pain can be managed.
Many people live with sciatica, but if you have a lot of pain that’s interfering with your life, then it’s always best to see a doctor.
1. Chiropractic Spinal Adjustments
Chiropractic spinal adjustments attempt to correct problems with the vertebrae to relieve painful symptoms.
Chiropractors manipulate the alignment and motion of your spine by applying pressure to certain points on your body.
It’s a common therapeutic treatment for lower back pain, but make sure you see a qualified professional.
2. Anyone for Tennis?
Many aches and pains can be soothed with the judicious use of a tennis ball!
Lie flat on the floor with a tennis ball beneath your lower back. Place your feet on the floor with knees bent to steady yourself and gently move your legs and lower back so that the tennis ball pushes and rubs the painful area.
Massaging the piriformis muscle located here can help it relax, removing pressure on your sciatic nerve.
This exercise may help relieve sciatic pain caused by muscle tension, but if the pain becomes worse, stop immediately, as your pain may be caused by a degenerative disease or a herniated disc injury. Get checked out.
3. Reducing Inflammation
Inflammation causes a host of problems, including making it harder for your body to heal.
If you are overweight, losing some pounds will reduce inflammation (as well as pressure on your back)—and if you still smoke, stop. Smoking causes inflammation as well as cancer.
Certain plants are said to reduce inflammation, so keep your eyes peeled for turmeric, valerian root, green tea, and chili peppers, which may help reduce inflammation.
Avocados and oily fish are all known for their anti-inflammatory properties, and they help lubricate your joints.
Heat pads help reduce inflammation, too, and they are inexpensive to buy.
Warming your lower back for 20 minutes three times a day can bring significant relief, and a warm, soothing bath can have the same pain-reducing effects—just be careful that you don’t burn your skin if you’re experiencing numbness.
If heat doesn’t help, try the opposite—ice therapy.
Ice therapy is a great way to reduce inflammation; it’s why your mother always held frozen peas on a bump. A well-wrapped ice pack on your lower back may help reduce inflammation and the pressure on your sciatic nerve.
4. Yoga and Stretching
Moving around when you’re in pain is never appealing, and in some cases, it can make sciatic pain worse. However, for some people, stretching and yoga poses can make the difference.
Exercise that requires weights or sharp movements usually brings more misery, but soothing yoga lengthens the spine to reduce stiffness and bring relief from lower back pain and bad posture. Studies have shown that yoga therapy is safe and beneficial for patients with sciatica.
The glamorously named “reclining pigeon pose” is well-known and is one of the best for lower back pain.
Lie on your back and place your right ankle on your left knee. This opens up the hips and stretches the piriformis muscle to reduce pressure on the sciatic nerve.
Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine that uses tiny needles to treat pain and discomfort in the body.
Traditional practitioners suggest that the needles open up blocked energy lines and allow “chi” to flow freely. Modern science suggests that the needles release endorphins that bring pain relief.
Either way, if acupuncture helps—go with it.
We spend a lot of time sleeping, but lying in certain positions can aggravate sciatic nerve pain.
If you have an old, sagging mattress and pillow, it’s time for an upgrade that supports your body. Choose a firm mattress or memory foam that molds to your body shape.
If you are a front or side sleeper, try to switch onto your back with your knees bent to relieve back pressure. Pop a pillow beneath your knees for support.
If you can afford to see a massage therapist, tell them you have sciatic pain.
A good, qualified masseuse will rub away pains and loosen tight muscles. This can take pressure away from the sciatic nerve. If you can’t get to a therapist, try a DIY massage instead.
Massage releases endorphins, stimulates muscles, and improves your blood flow–all of which may help soothe sciatic problems.
8. Quit the Sit
We spend a lot of time sitting down in sedentary jobs. How many hours do you spend in front of a computer monitor, the TV, or your iPad or phone screen?
Lack of movement is causing a tidal wave of lower back pain, so get up and go for walk on your lunch break. Taking regular breaks to stretch your lower back and legs throughout the day can help prevent sciatica and ease its symptoms.
If you need encouragement, get a pedometer and increase your walking distance with a daily challenge.
If you must sit for extended periods, sit up straight, improve your bad posture, and flex your ankles.
Be Gentle with Yourself
Dealing with sciatic nerve pain is essential as you recover from injury or learn to manage a degenerative disease. Always take it gently but ensure you keep moving—sitting still with the TV remote is a surefire way to create more pain.