No single treatment option works for everyone, but any of these 4 commonly overlooked remedies may help you find quick relief.
1. Apply heat and/or cold
By now you likely know that applying ice packs or heating pads can help reduce pain and inflammation—the hard part is knowing when and how to apply them. Here are a few guidelines to help get you started:
- As a general rule, apply heat before an activity (e.g. running) to warm up your lower back/buttock muscles and to spur a healthy amount of blood flow to the area.
- If you find heat helps reduce your pain, then be sure to stretch gently afterward—you'll find that the heat therapy has relaxed your muscles and it will be easier to do your stretching.
- If your pain is worse after activity, use ice or a cold pack to cool down the inflammation. Since inflammation contributes to pain, reducing local inflammation can go a long way toward alleviating your symptoms.
- Consider applying heat before leaving any sedentary position. For example, keep a heating pad near your bed and apply it to your lower back and/or buttock for 10 to 20 minutes before you get out of bed.
- Often, you might not have the time to sit for an extended period and apply heat and/or cold therapy. To find relief while on the move, you can choose one widely available option: a back wrap that can hold reusable and removable heat and cold pack inserts.
2. Go for a walk
Your symptoms might lead you to believe otherwise, but a low-impact aerobic exercise like walking is typically better for your sciatica than bed rest. Walking alleviates sciatic pain by stimulating the release of endorphins into your system and reducing the inflammation around your sciatic nerve roots.
- A typical exercise plan for walking entails keeping a brisk pace for 30 minutes 3 to 4 times a week.
- Make sure you walk with correct posture—stand upright and engage your abdominal and lower-back muscles.
- If needed, you can begin with 5 minute walks and slowly build up your endurance.
- If you’re sciatic pain is severe, water therapy—exercise in a warm pool—provides many of the same benefits but is gentler on the lower back.
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3. Focus your mind
No matter how long you’ve dealt with sciatica, a variety of mental pain control techniques may help bring quick relief from your symptoms. If your brain doesn't notice your symptoms because it's distracted or focused on something else, your experience of the pain will not be as bad.
- Mental imagery, meditation, and other techniques can make a dent in your pain levels in as little as 10 minutes a day, or 30 minutes 3 times a week.
- At a bare minimum, it will benefit you to sit in a quiet room and practice 2 to 3 minutes of controlled breathing.
- You don't have to rely entirely on this practice; however, if it reduces your need for pain medications even a little it can be worth your time.
4. Improve your posture
Sitting puts extra stress on your lower back and sciatic nerve. Learning how to sit with proper posture can prevent the compression of nerves around your spine, 5 of which bundle together to form the sciatic nerve in each of your legs.
- Sitting with your knees slightly elevated reduces the pressure on your spine. A simple trick is to elevate your feet by placing a book on the ground in front of your chair.
- Sitting straight up with your back and buttocks flush against your chair also reduces spinal pressure.
- You may want to purchase an ergonomic office chair, as they typically provide better support for the spine than a regular chair.
- The use of a standing desk for at least part of the day can also be beneficial.
- Even if you have perfect sitting posture, it is a good idea to keep your spine moving throughout the day by occasionally stretching and walking around.
Every person is different, so there is no guarantee that all 4 of these commonly overlooked sciatica remedies will work for you. Keep experimenting until you find a treatment that brings you relief, and remember that a progressive, controlled exercise program is usually the key to long-term sciatic pain relief.