If you’ve experienced sciatica, or sciatic pain, you’ve no doubt looked for ways to relieve it. The longest nerve in your body, the sciatic nerve starts in your lower back and branches off to run down the back of each leg. If too much pressure is placed on your sciatic nerve, often because of a herniated disc or bone spur, you may feel pain anywhere along the nerve path.
Though there’s not a single solution that works for everyone, there are several things you can try to ease the pain of sciatica or minimize future flare-ups. Check out the following tips.
1. Avoid sitting for long periods of time.
Many people report an increase in sciatica symptoms after staying in the same position for a while. Do you spend hours at a desk each day? Does your pain worsen after a long airplane flight? Try to take short but frequent standing and walking breaks to relieve pressure on your sciatic nerve.
2. Incorporate regular exercise.
We know that exercise is beneficial for our overall health, but it may also improve your sciatic nerve pain. Low-impact exercise, such as Pilates or yoga, can help improve your core strength and support your spine.
3. Stretch it out.
Similarly, tight ligaments and muscles may irritate your sciatic nerve and cause pain. Gently stretching your hips, hamstrings, and buttocks can boost your flexibility and bring you some relief.
4. Heat it up or cool it off.
Both heat and cold therapy are useful for managing sciatica. Ice, especially in the first few days of a flare-up, is great for reducing inflammation and decreasing the sensation of pain. Heat, on the other hand, can increase blood flow to the area and soothe tight muscles. You may find that one works better for you than the other, and that’s OK. Just be sure not to leave either on for longer than about 15-20 minutes at a time.
5. Pay attention to your posture.
Poor posture can wreak havoc on your spine and increase sciatica symptoms. When you’re sitting, make sure your back is supported, and consider slightly elevating your feet to take some pressure off your lower back. When walking, think about standing tall with your shoulders back. Avoid carrying heavy bags. Also, use good mechanics when you’re lifting—lift with your legs and try to keep the object close to your body.
6. Try an anti-inflammatory.
Common over-the-counter medications called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen and naproxen, are often useful. NSAIDs lessen your pain by calming inflammation in your sciatic nerve. Keep in mind that they should be used only when your sciatica flares up and are not to be used indefinitely. Consult a physician for any questions.
7. Work toward a healthy weight.
Being overweight puts more strain on your body and spine. Obviously, there’s no quick fix for weight loss, but taking steps to shed excess pounds can improve your sciatica symptoms in the long run.
8. Seek out the help of a specialist.
If your sciatica is persistent or severe, or if you develop significant symptoms such as numbness or weakness in your legs, make an appointment with a doctor. Our spine specialists at DISC Sports & Spine Center are happy to review your case and develop an individualized plan to improve your sciatic nerve pain. With multiple treatment options at your disposal, including medications, targeted injections, and minimally invasive surgery, you may find just what you need for long-lasting pain relief.
About the author
Robert S. Bray, Jr., M.D. Nicknamed “Dr. Fix-It” by The Red Bulletin, Robert S. Bray, Jr., M.D. makes an art of helping the world’s most elite athletes return to push the boundaries of performance. The neurological spine surgeon, recognized globally for his thorough diagnoses and pioneering minimally invasive approach, is quickly redefining sports medicine, one champion at a time. Dr. Bray founded the state-of-the-art, multi-disciplinary DISC Sports & Spine Center (DISC) in 2006 located in Los Angeles, CA. Read more articles by Robert S. Bray, Jr., M.D..