The term sciatica is often used to refer to leg pain originating from the spinal nerves in the lower back.
Here are 2 uniquely important remedies that almost everyone can benefit from—they help relieve sciatica in the short term and prevent future recurrences.
1. Avoid prolonged rest and start a structured, progressive exercise routine.
While it seems counterintuitive to recommend staying active rather than rest, your pain will increase with prolonged inactivity and decrease with motion. 1 Koes B. Moderate quality evidence that compared to advice to rest in bed, advice to remain active provides small improvements in pain and functional status in people with acute low back pain. Evidence-Based Medicine. 2010;15(6):171-172. doi:10.1136/ebm1132
Useful tips to help you stay active during the day are:
- Use the stairs instead of an elevator.
- Park in a distant parking space to get a few extra walking steps.
- If you have a desk job, get up every 30 minutes to an hour and walk a short distance.
- Consider switching to a standing desk with adjustable height.
- Perform simple stretches that you can do while sitting on your office chair, such as stretching your hamstrings.
- Go for regular, short walks in the morning and/or evening, even if it is for a few minutes every day.
It is a good idea to work with a physical therapist and/or make exercise a part of your daily routine. A regular routine of structured exercise can help support and hold up your spine and lessen your sciatica symptoms by strengthening your abdominal, core, lumbar (lower back), and pelvic muscles. 2 Fernandez M, Hartvigsen J, Ferreira ML, et al. Advice to Stay Active or Structured Exercise in the Management of Sciatica. Spine. 2015;40(18):1457-1466. doi:10.1097/brs.0000000000001036 , 3 Mu W, Shang Y, Mo Z, Tang S. Comparison of two types of exercises in the treatment of lumbar spinal stenosis. Pak J Med Sci. 2018;34(4):897–900. doi:10.12669/pjms.344.15296 , 4 Pourahmadi MR, Taghipour M, Ebrahimi Takamjani I, Sanjari MA, Mohseni-Bandpei MA, Keshtkar AA. Motor control exercise for symptomatic lumbar disc herniation: protocol for a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ Open. 2016;6(9):e012426. Published 2016 Sep 27. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2016-012426 Your spinal discs are also nourished when you exercise, allowing the flow of nutrients and encouraging healing. 5 Belavý DL, Albracht K, Bruggemann G-P, Vergroesen P-PA, van Dieën JH. Can Exercise Positively Influence the Intervertebral Disc? Sports Medicine. 2015;46(4):473-485. doi:10.1007/s40279-015-0444-2
Exercise therapy effectively helps to control and prevent the recurrence of sciatica in the long term.
Staying active has an overall beneficial effect
When you stay active and exercise on a regular basis, it can help reduce weight or keep your weight in check (preventing sciatica), produce endorphins (natural pain fighting hormones), and reduce anxiety and depression that is usually a part of chronic pain. 6 Grant G, Machaczek K, Pollard N, Allmark P. Walking, sustainability and health: findings from a study of a Walking for Health group. Health & Social Care in the Community. 2017;25(3):1218-1226. doi:10.1111/hsc.12424 , 7 Hanson S, Jones A. Is there evidence that walking groups have health benefits? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med. 2015;49(11):710–715. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2014-094157 , 8 Lee JS, Kang SJ. The effects of strength exercise and walking on lumbar function, pain level, and body composition in chronic back pain patients. J Exerc Rehabil. 2016;12(5):463–470. Published 2016 Oct 31. doi:10.12965/jer.1632650.325
2. Be meticulous about supporting your spine throughout the day.
Your sitting, standing, lifting, walking, and sleeping postures can go a long way in helping your sciatic nerve heal or worsening your symptoms. For example, when you habitually slouch while sitting at your desk, the excessive stress along the front of your spine may cause your discs to bulge or herniate, irritating your sciatic nerve roots. Likewise, a sudden lifting injury can herniate your disc, impinging or irritating a sciatic nerve root.
Read about Sciatica Causes
Important postural adjustments that you can make to prevent damage to your sciatic nerve roots are:
- Sitting. While sitting, keep your back flush against your chair with your head over the spine, your shoulders rolled back, and the shoulder blades down. Place a small pillow or rolled-up towel to support your lower back and maintain the lumbar curve. 9 Pavilack, L., Alstedter, N. & Wisniewski, E. Pain-free posture handbook : 40 dynamic easy exercises to look and feel your best. Berkeley, CA: Althea Press; 2016. You can also purchase a lumbar support pillow that you can use while driving, at work, and/or while you travel.
- Lifting. While lifting a heavy object off the floor, squat down in front of the object by keeping a straight back and bending your knees. Hold the object close to your chest while you straighten your knees to stand up. 9 Pavilack, L., Alstedter, N. & Wisniewski, E. Pain-free posture handbook : 40 dynamic easy exercises to look and feel your best. Berkeley, CA: Althea Press; 2016.
- Sleeping. While sleeping, place a pillow under your knees if you’re a back sleeper or tuck a pillow between your thighs if you’re a side sleeper. Also, avoid beds that are too soft or have sunken over time. You may want to consider rotating or flipping your mattress periodically. Certain types of pillow-top mattresses can be too plush and cause back pain over time.
- Walking. While walking, keep your spine straight, relax your shoulders, make sure to land on your heel and then gently roll forward to push off the front of your foot. With each step, reach the opposite arm forward to achieve a gentle spinal rotation. 9 Pavilack, L., Alstedter, N. & Wisniewski, E. Pain-free posture handbook : 40 dynamic easy exercises to look and feel your best. Berkeley, CA: Althea Press; 2016.
If you commit to using correct and supportive posture continually, it will help keep your sciatic nerve from getting compressed or irritated, preventing sciatica.
Read about Good Posture Helps Reduce Back Pain
The health of your sciatic nerve also improves when you quit smoking, stop using tobacco products, get a good amount of restorative sleep, and eat a healthy diet containing anti-inflammatory foods. It is also advisable to avoid highly processed foods and foods containing high amounts of simple sugars.
Use these tips and techniques on a regular basis to see the improvements in your sciatica pain. If your sciatica pain does not improve or continues to worsen, consult your doctor to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan of your underlying lower back condition. If you develop worsening numbness, tingling, and/or weakness in your legs, see your doctor immediately—since these symptoms may indicate a more serious underlying condition, such as cauda equina syndrome.
Read about When Sciatica Pain Is a Medical Emergency