What is sciatica?
Sciatica is pain that occurs along the path of the sciatic nerve. This nerve emerges through a notch in your pelvis and runs down the back of your glute and thigh before branching into other nerves at the knee. Sciatic pain can range from an ache to debilitating, intense pain, and it can sometimes take a few weeks before it calms down. Some causes behind sciatic pain include:
- Disc herniations in the low back
- Bony growth due to degenerative changes in your low back
- Compression on the nerve by the piriformis muscle (also known as piriformis syndrome).
In this blog post we’ll discuss the symptoms associated with sciatica pain, the things you can do to manage the pain during a flare, and how you can prevent future flares.
How do I know if I’m having sciatic pain?
It’s very likely that you are suffering from sciatic nerve pain if you’re experience a combination of these signs and symptoms:
- Debilitating pain that typically starts at the lumbar spine or glute and shoots down the back of the thigh and leg.
- Pain that is exacerbated with extension of the low back.
- Pain that is alleviated with bending forward and/or leaning to one side
- Pain that is exacerbated with sneezing, coughing or straining
How to get relief from sciatica symptoms?
When you are right in the middle of a sciatic flare, it can feel like any sort of movement will send that jolt of pain coming right back. In some cases, there is no position that brings relief, whether you’re sitting, standing or laying down. At that point, it can be really frustrating to feel like there’s absolutely nothing that you can do to manage the pain at the moment. Fortunately, there are a number of things that you can try to alleviate the pain. The first thing to know before attempting sciatica treatment is to listen to your body and stop if you feel like the symptoms are getting worse. Also, you’ll also probably want to start with the more conservative and gentle methods before trying anything more taxing or physical.
Ice and Rest.
The most important part of getting out of acute sciatic nerve pain is to rest up as much as you can. This does not mean staying in bed all day, but it does mean avoiding excessive sitting, heavy lifting or any activity that might be too strenuous to your body. For many people, this is the hardest part to do because we all have work, family, and day-to-day duties that require us to be up and about. If you are unable to take time off from these more physically demanding activities, make sure to rest up as much as you can outside of those activities.
Additionally, feel free to ice your low back for 20 minutes a couple of times throughout the day in order to reduce inflammation. When it comes to heating pads, while they increase blood flow and help with healing, often it’s recommended to stick to ice only. This is because heat increases fluid buildup and, even though it feels great, it can actually increase the inflammatory process.
There are a number of stretches that you can do for the low back and glutes. In particular, consider hugging your knee to your chest before repeating the same with the other leg. If you’re able to, a great stretch is to lay on your back and do a figure-four stretch. Go as slow as you need, hold the stretch for about 30 seconds, and repeat it 2-3 times a day. Depending on how acute your pain is, stretching can be hard and slow, but the most important thing to remember is to stop if the pain is increasing or if you’re having additional symptoms such as numbness and tingling.
When it comes to sciatic nerve pain due to disc herniations, putting motion into the discs in the low back can help alleviate the pain. Look into McKenzie exercises which include slow progressions of the cobra pose and pelvic tilts. Do remember that not all sciatic flare ups are the same and that you should listen to your body if symptoms worsen. If your sciatic pain is due to a tight piriformis, consider gently stretching this muscle or seeking out a massage therapist to work through any muscle imbalances.
In our office, we’re constantly seeing cases of sciatic pain. When we have misalignments in our low back and pelvis, this can put pressure on herniated discs and nerves. In other words, this can be a huge contributor to sciatic pain. Fortunately, we use a safe and gentle approach to adjusting patients with sciatic pain. This allows us to correct their structure, put pressure off the sciatic nerve, and offer soft tissue release in order to stimulate the relaxation of muscle spasms.
In physical therapy or PT, you can do stretches and exercises under professional supervision to make sure that you don’t injure yourself further and so that you’re doing activity specialized to your particular case and pain.
How to prevent future episodes of sciatic pain?
There’s a number of different ways to avoid future sciatic flares. Keep an eye out for the triggers that have caused you sciatic pain in the past, work on managing those, and absolutely take preventative steps. Here’s a few things you can start doing today to support your body and avoid future flares:
- Getting proper rest and easing back into things when coming out of a sciatic flare.
- Proper stretching and warm ups before heavy lifting.
- Use proper biomechanics during workouts.
- Strengthen the core and low back muscles.
- Take breaks between long periods of sitting.
- Start chiropractic care