5 Effective Ways to Treat Sciatica Pain
Sciatica pain refers to radiating pain that emanates from an affected sciatic nerve. The pain follows the path of the sciatic nerve, beginning in the lower back, through the hip and buttock area, and down the leg. Sciatica pain normally only impacts one side of the body.
Here, we’ll examine the finer points of sciatic nerve pain including risk factors, symptoms, and how to best treat it—from physical therapy to the use of a sciatica brace.
What Causes Sciatica?
According to clinical research, 90% of sciatica cases are caused by a herniated (or slipped) disc with a compressed nerve root. That said, sciatica may also be caused by spondylolisthesis, spinal stenosis, piriformis, and even pregnancy.
Who Is at Risk for Sciatica?
Low back pain impacts between 49-70% of the population, with sciatica making up somewhere between 5-10% of all low back pain causes. With so many afflicted, anyone can suffer from sciatic nerve damage and sciatica pain. However, some occupational and personal factors put certain individuals at a higher risk of suffering from acute sciatica. Personal factors that increase the risk of sciatica include:
- Age (increasing risk after 45)
- Sedentary lifestyle
Occupational hazards include jobs that require:
- Prolonged sitting
- Driving or riding in motor vehicles
- Physical overhead activities
- Carrying heavy objects or loads
- Activities that create body vibration
Symptoms of Sciatica Pain
Sciatica pain typically starts with numbness, tingling, or a mild ache in the low back, hip, and buttock. The pain radiates from the nerve, so pain and discomfort emanate along the nerve pathway. The pain can be mild or severe, with more intense pain described as a burning sensation or even an electric shock.
If you’ve experienced sciatic nerve pain in the past or are at a greater risk for sciatic injury due to personal or occupation factors, you should focus on prevention. Prevention techniques include regular exercise, strength training, stretching, and maintaining correct posture.
Regular exercise can help you maintain back, abdomen, and core strength. A strong core and back will help you achieve proper posture, alignment, and movement. Your exercise regimen should include some alignment-focused stretching exercises like yoga to help you align, lengthen, and strengthen your spine.
If your occupation requires prolonged sitting, focusing on posture can help you avoid low back injuries. If you sit at a desk, choose a chair that provides back support, has armrests, and is comfortable. If your occupation requires heavy lifting, ensure you utilize proper alignment and mechanics to avoid overworking or fatiguing your back.
5 Ways to Treat Sciatica Pain
Now that you know a little more about sciatica, it’s time to examine the most effective methods of treatment for it. From exercise, to rest, to the use of a sciatica brace, there are many steps you can take to find relief. While most mild sciatica pain is relieved with time, if your symptoms last more than a few days or the pain gets worse, you should seek out a medical diagnosis.
1. Limited Rest
For most minor cases of sciatica, limited rest is the most effective treatment. Sciatic nerve pain is often caused by inflammation and overuse. Giving your body proper time to rest and recover can be the most effective way to alleviate the symptoms of sciatica. A few days off of your feet is typically enough. But don’t just lay in bed. Lay on a firm mattress or the floor to help alleviate symptoms and encourage proper alignment.
Rest can also include hot and cold therapy. Cold packs should be used for the first few days after symptoms appear. After a couple of days, switch to heat packs to aid in the recovery process. Over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatories can be used sparingly for the first few days after an injury to relieve pain and reduce swelling and inflammation.
2. Gentle Movement
After a few days of rest, your body begins to weaken, putting your back at risk for further injury. That’s why rest treatment should be limited in scope. Gentle movement is an effective treatment to relieve inflammation, stretch tightened muscles, and maintain proper strength.
Short walks, gentle stretching movements like yoga, and even massage can relieve minor symptoms of sciatica and even help prevent the injury from reoccurring. Swimming and water aerobics can be a supportive, gentle way to strengthen tendons and muscles while training the body to move properly.
3. Exercise and Physical Therapy
The best way to treat a low back injury is to strengthen the area to reduce symptoms and prevent further injury. Exercise and physical therapy can help sciatica sufferers find long-term relief. Core strengthening exercises, deep tissue massage, and other physical therapy can stabilize the spine, restore flexibility, and prevent further sciatic nerve damage.
4. A Supportive Back Brace
An appropriate sciatica brace is a highly effective way to treat sciatica and prevent further instances of pain. An inflatable back brace provides effective lower back treatment by reducing pressure within the vertebrae. A sciatic nerve brace can provide effective, long-term relief by increasing intervertebral disc space, decreasing pain symptoms, and decreasing inflammation. It can even improve overall back function.
5. Spinal Injections
If rest, movement, and physical therapy don’t provide relief and symptoms worsen or don’t improve within a month, epidural steroid injections may be used as a form of treatment. An injection of steroid into the back near the sciatic nerve can reduce inflammation and reduce nerve pain. However, as with all medical procedures, there are risks of side effects and limitations of effectiveness.
Spinal injections should be discussed with a medical professional and should only be used after other non-invasive procedures are exhausted. Likewise, surgery should be considered as a last resort for sciatica.
Have Your Back’s Back
Sciatica pain can be debilitating. For many people, a sciatica brace or sciatic nerve brace may be enough to alleviate symptoms, but if you feel like you have tried everything and are still suffering, don’t hesitate to visit your doctor and consider all of the options that are open to you. Relief is available.