Sciatic nerve pain can be one of the most widespread and intense forms of pain. However, because sciatica is almost always a symptom rather than a condition of its own, it can be difficult to treat this nerve pain directly.
For long-term sciatica treatment, you will likely need the help of a pain management specialist and a physical therapist. You can learn more about the common causes of sciatica and how physical therapy works as a treatment for sciatica in our previous blog, “How Can Physical Therapy Help Sciatica?”
In this blog, we list seven techniques that can help you reduce the frequency and intensity of your sciatic nerve pain between appointments with your doctor or physical therapist.
Acupressure is a non-invasive alternative to acupuncture that most people can do at home. For sciatic pain, lie flat on your back. Once you have settled against the floor, place your fists beneath the arch of your back. Try kneading the area lightly with your knuckles to see how it affects your pain.
For a more consistent pressure, use a tennis ball instead of your hand.
2. Anti-Inflammatory Painkillers
Much of the pain related to sciatica results from high amounts of inflammation around the nerve. While over-the-counter painkillers may not eliminate your pain, anti-inflammatory medicines can supplement pain management measures you are already taking.
Choose a painkiller with acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen as the active ingredient. Remember, because this painkiller will not completely get rid of sciatic nerve pain, you shouldn’t take another dose if the first doesn’t work. Always follow the dosage recommendations on the bottle.
3. Cold Therapy
Like anti-inflammatory painkillers, cold therapy can reduce inflammation and its effects. Place a cold compress on the area with the most intense or focused pain. Leave the compress in place for 15 to 20 minutes and then let your body rest for at least 10 minutes.
If your pain does not diminish while using cold therapy, switch to heat therapy instead.
4. Heat Therapy
Heat therapy dilates the blood vessels and may reduce the pressure on the sciatic nerve. To apply heat therapy, either use a heat pack in the same way as the cold pack method explained above or run a warm bath.
Because sciatica can extend from the lower back to the feet, a bath or session in a hot tub can more successfully address sciatica than a localized heat pack.
5. Low-Impact and Low-Intensity Activity
While high-quality sleep and periodic rest are important to the healing process—as we’ll discuss in the next section—too little activity can contribute to sciatica. Avoid sitting in one place for a long period of time, especially on very soft chairs or sofas with straight backs. You may be able to spend more time in a recliner chair, but it’s important to avoid too much inactivity whenever possible.
Instead, do small amounts of low-impact, low-intensity activity to stretch your muscles and reduce pressure on the sciatic nerve. This activity could consist of something as simple as walking down your driveway, but daily swimming or walking routines can also reduce your symptoms in the long run.
6. Rest on a Firm Surface
If you experience much more intense pain when you try to exercise, give yourself a period to rest. For most individuals, a firm surface is much more comfortable when suffering sciatic pain. You may even have good results while lying on a carpeted floor, futon, or thin camping mattress.
If you feel most comfortable on your back, put a pillow under your knees to further reduce the tension in your lower back. If you prefer to lay on your side, a pillow between your knees can help you keep your spine straighter and more effectively reduce your pain.
While the efficacy of yoga depends on the cause of your sciatica, certain simple positions can relieve some of the intense pain that characterizes sciatica. In addition to the poses explained in our previous blog, “Coping With Back Pain: Yoga Moves to Stretch and Tone,” use the cat-cow pose.
To move into the cat-cow position, get on your hands and knees with your back straight. Slowly arch your back upward like a hissing cat would. Then return to the original position. Repeat the movement as many times as you feel comfortable with.
Use these techniques to relieve your sciatic pain so that you can perform your daily activities without worrying about pervasive, shooting pain.
If you experience sciatica and aren’t currently under the care of a pain management doctor, the techniques listed above will not address any underlying conditions that cause your nerve pain. To identify and treat the causes of your pain, make an appointment at Southwest Florida Neurosurgical & Rehab Associates. We offer pain management solutions, including sciatica treatment and evaluation.