The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body. It consists of a large bundle of smaller nerves. The sciatic nerve begins in the lumbar spine, travelling deep through the buttocks and thigh, stretching from the top of the leg to the foot.
Sciatic pain, referred to as sciatica, is a common and painful condition that occurs when the nerve is compressed or irritated.
There are many non-invasive pain management treatments, making it important to find the remedy, or combination of remedies, that works best for managing your pain.
As many as 40% of people are affected by sciatica in their lifetime. Below you’ll find a collection of pain management treatments everyone suffering from sciatic pain should have in their arsenal.
Heat & Ice Therapy
Heat and ice therapy is practiced through use of heating pads and ice packs and is a simple and inexpensive treatment for sciatica. While some report ice helps their pain and others heat, you’ll find that both remedies may treat your pain. In some instances heat may feel best and in others ice. Alternating between heat and ice has been shown to ease painful muscle spasms that those with sciatica often experience.
How does it work? Heat causes small blood vessels to open and should be used to relax and open tissues. Heat treatments are not advised after activity or acute injury as swelling may worsen.
Ice brings solace to the body by reducing tissue temperature, resulting in a numbing effect caused by a constriction of blood vessels and a decrease in blood flow. Ice’s other therapeutic benefits include a reduction in muscle spasms, a decrease in inflammation and swelling prevention.
A large benefit of heat and ice therapy is that you likely have the tools you need to practice it already on hand. If you don’t have an electric heating pad, perhaps you have a gel pack that can be microwaved or frozen. Additionally, a towel soaked in hot or cold water and then wrung out is an excellent alternative.
Although you may feel sciatica pain in your thigh and or calf, you’ll want to hold your heat or ice over your pelvis or lower back. The lower back is typically responsible for pinching or irritating one of your sciatic nerves. Applying heat or ice here will help get to the root of the problem.
Massage therapy is of great benefit to those looking to manage their sciatica, as massage soothes and relaxes tense muscles. Tense muscles put more pressure on nerves – including the sciatic nerve. A massage therapist may implement a few techniques, including deep tissue massage, trigger point therapy, hot stone massage, myofascial release and neuromuscular release.
While tight muscles may apply pressure on your nerves, it’s also possible for tight muscles to knot into small painful nodes. Massage therapy can help to ease this trigger point pain as well as stretch, elongate and loosen muscles.
Manipulation of the muscles from massage stimulates blood vessels, enhancing blood, oxygen and the flow of other nutrients to sore areas which promotes healing. Additionally, stimulation of pressure respecters both releases endorphins which lessens pain and reduces cortisol (responsible for stress) levels.
Massage therapists or other qualified health practitioners in your area will be able to pinpoint the type of massage best for your pain and help to ease your sciatica.
Chiropractors regularly treat sciatica through chiropractic adjustment among various other treatments they perform. Some spinal disorders, including herniated, bulging or slipped discs, misaligned vertebral bodies and spinal tumors cause sciatic nerve compression. Pregnancy, childbirth, diabetes and constipation are other known causes of sciatica.
If you make the decision to receive treatment from a chiropractor near you for sciatica, they will first determine what is causing your sciatica, as this is vital to navigating the type of adjustment you will need.
A chiropractor may also come to the conclusion that your sciatica is caused by a disorder which is beyond what they are able to offer in chiropractic practice.
Chiropractic treatment, at its core, is a treatment used to help the body heal itself. Restricted spinal movement results in pain and malfunction – and not just in the spine, as evidenced by sciatica, which often sends pain through the thigh and calf.
Some treatments commonly used for sciatica by chiropractors are ice therapy to reduce swelling, ultrasound – which produces gentle heat through sound waves which penetrate deep into soft tissue, TENS unit to stimulate muscles and spinal adjustments, the chiropractic treatment many are most familiar with.
Speak with your primary care provider or a chiropractor to determine is chiropractic adjustment to see if this treatment is suited for your sciatica.
Many have seen success in soothing and reducing sciatica flare-ups through regular yoga practice. The right yoga poses, which focus on gentle movement, have proven to be effective in strengthening the back and relieving pressure put on the root of the sciatic nerve.
Poses which focus on realigning the spine, extending the lower back, stretching the glutes and hamstrings, as well as internally and externally rotating the hips are musts when utilizing yoga to soothe and reduce sciatica.
However, it is important to note that you should not push or force your body into a position that is not comfortable. Do not over extend, as any pose performed too deeply or quickly for your body can increase symptoms. Go at your own pace and know that poses that you aren’t currently capable of, or aren’t comfortable in your body, will become so through regular practice. Be gentle with yourself.
When you come to a place in which pain is manageable, it is recommended that you also integrate core strengthening yoga poses, like plank pose, dolphin pose or chair pose. Strengthening the back and abdominal muscles will help to provide more support for the back.
You’ll find many beginner-friendly yoga poses and sequences prepared specifically for those who suffer from sciatica. We’ve compiled some of our favorite poses, which can be performed in various ways to meet your body where it is today (Click to view yoga poses).