Officially, sciatica is “pain in the lower extremity resulting from irritation of the sciatic nerve” – but that doesn’t come close to capturing how sciatica feels, what it’s like to live with it, or just how important treating sciatica can be.
Because that “pain in the lower extremity” can mean a constant, nagging ache that never seems to completely go away. Or a shooting pain that radiates through your buttock and down your leg.
It can mean never being able to roll over in bed because you can’t sleep on the affected side.
Or not being able to sit for a long time, because the discomfort becomes too much.
And it really means that treating this pain can become a top priority, so that you can have a reprieve from the constant ache and shooting pains.
Risks and Causes of Sciatica
As I mention so often, it’s easier to treat a condition once you know what’s causing it. Treating sciatica is no different.
Sciatica is often caused by a herniated disc or a bone spur – but before you panic, know that it can also be caused by anything that irritates the sciatic nerve.
That’s why it can be so common. By some reports, as many as 40% of adults will experience sciatica at some point in their lives.
The good news, though, is that between 80 and 90% of all cases will clear up without surgical intervention. So while it may feel hopeless right now, there are successful ways to treat sciatica.
Easing the Pain of Sciatica – It’s Easier Than You Think
Tackling your sciatica is about tackling the issue on two fronts: easing the pain and correcting the condition.
Let’s look at easing the pain first…
Start with cold packs. When you first start treatment, it will help to reduce the inflammation. This is where ice comes into play. Wrap ice or even a bag of frozen vegetables in a towel and keep it on the site of your worst pain for about twenty minutes. You can do this several times a day, just be sure to leave the ice off for twenty minutes at a time, as well.
After three days of ice, it’s time to move to heat. Only think of it more as warmth, rather than heat. You don’t want to burn yourself. Use a heating pad on its lowest setting for twenty minutes at a time. Again, treat your sciatica for about three days with warmth for twenty minutes at a time, two or three times a day.
If you’re still hurting at this point, consider alternating ice and warmth. Start with one for twenty minutes, then switch to the other for twenty minutes, two or three times a day.
To help ease the pain of sciatica while you sleep, check your mattress. Firm, but not too firm, support is often helpful, as is keeping a pillow between your knees when you’re in bed.
Stretching is another excellent form of treatment and relieving its pain in the moment. There are several stretches you can do easily in the privacy of your own home, but you can also sign up for a yoga class for a longer-term approach.
Which brings us to –
Long-Term Approaches to Sciatica Treatment
Easing pain is definitely important, but you also want to correct whatever condition is irritating your sciatic nerve, if at all possible.
A good place to start treatment is on this level is physical therapy. Your physical therapist can help with exercises and passive stretches that can help with pain, inflammation, and irritation.
He or she can also talk to you about posture and motions that may be contributing to – and can help alleviate – sciatica.
Massage is another excellent way of helping sciatica. A good massage therapist will be able to give you a deep tissue massage, which can release the tension in the muscle just above the sciatic nerve. When this muscle gets tense or goes into spasm, it can irritate the sciatic nerve.
Releasing that tension with deep tissue massage may help eliminate your sciatica.
When dealing with the treatment of other conditions, you probably hear about diet and how certain foods can help. Treating sciatica is no different. All your muscles, including the one that can impact your sciatic nerve, require magnesium to function properly.
If that muscle is in spasm, it could be because of a magnesium deficiency. Increasing your intake of magnesium-rich foods, like fish, apples, and dairy products may be helpful for easing sciatica.
Finally, some people have had great success in treating sciatica and its pain with acupuncture. While results are mixed, it’s been effective enough for some that it’s worth looking into, especially if your nerve pain is particularly bad.
If it’s a dull ache or a shooting debilitating pain, and you’re experiencing it, treating sciatica is essential. And it’s also possible.
So try these tips to treat your sciatica and get back out there. Your life is waiting!