Sciatica – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

How to Relieve Sciatica Pain - This can be done through stretching, releasing muscle tension, and realigning your pelvis.

What is Sciatica?

Sciatica refers to nerve pain in the leg that is commonly associated with back problems such as bulging disks, compressed or pinched nerves, spinal misalignment, spinal stenosis, and tight muscles. It can start in the back and run down the leg, or it can just be a pain in the leg without back pain. It may be associated with numbness, or the sensation of pins and needles in the leg or foot, and muscle weakness of the leg.

What are the Symptoms of Sciatica?

Sciatica is a type of nerve pain, which is usually a burning, stabbing or shooting feeling. It radiates from your buttock down the back of your leg. It often gets worse when you walk, cough, strain on the toilet or go up stairs.

Most people only have symptoms in one leg. You may also feel lower back pain. You might notice pins and needles, numbness or weakness in your leg.

What Causes Sciatica?

When people have back pain, they often refer to it as sciatica. But what causes sciatica to flare up? Sciatica is a very common type of back pain that radiates down the sciatic nerve, hence the name sciatica. The sciatic nerve extends from the lower back and down the back of each leg. Sciatica occurs when the root or roots of the sciatic nerve, located in the lower lumbar spine, are compressed or irritated.

The causes of sciatica include anything that presses on the sciatic nerve or its nerve roots. Most of the time, sciatica is not caused by anything serious.

Sometimes, however, sciatica can be caused by:

  • prolapsed disc – when the discs that cushion the vertebrae breakdown and cause two or more vertebrae to rub against each other, generally caused by age.
  • A spinal injury
  • Bone spurs caused by osteoarthritis
  • Pregnancy
  • Narrowing of the spinal canal in the lower back caused by lumbar spinal stenosis.
  • A tumour
  • Muscle spasms in the buttocks or back.
  • An abscess
  • Additional causes include lack of exercise, obesity, wearing high heels, or sleeping on a mattress that is too soft.

How to Relieve Sciatica Pain

Most people know what sciatica means—low back pain that radiates downward into the left or right buttock into the leg and sometimes all the way into the foot.

In some cases, the pain can be excruciating, and while it may be hard to believe, sciatica often goes away within three months with conservative treatment. That “conservative treatment” referred to here are non-invasive therapies that can be done in the comfort of your own home.

How to relieve sciatica pain exercises? There are several things you can try to help control and relieve your sciatica pain. Modifying your posture and activities can help by reducing pressure on the nerves in your lower back and spine.

Postural changes

Maintaining proper posture while you sit, stand, and sleep can reduce and prevent nerve irritation, muscle spasm and stiffness, and overall wellness. Here are ways to maintain proper posture in different positions.

  • Standing: Distribute your weight equally between both feet. The spine should be naturally curved with your head balanced at the top.
  • Walking: A regular walking routine is recommended. Wear appropriate running shoes or walking shoes. Focus on having your heel hit the ground first followed by your mid-sole and toes for good balance and walking form.
  • Bending and lifting: Proper bending and lifting can prevent spinal injury and avoid aggravation of sciatica if you already have it. When lifting squat down in front of the object by bending your knees, not your back. Keep the object close to your chest and use your legs to stand up.
  • Sitting: Sitting is considered the new smoking. Prolonged sitting compresses the discs and nerves of the back leading to back pain and/or sciatica. When sitting, be sure there are no objects in your back pocket like a cell phone or wallet, as they will cause a misalignment of the spine and pelvis. Sit straight in your chair with a lumbar support or pillow, and place a step stool under your feet to ensure proper sitting alignment.
  • Sleeping: Sleep on your side with a pillow between your legs, or on your back with one or two pillows under your knees. This helps reduce tension on the back and sciatic nerve.

Staying active

Exercise is important for avoiding back pain and sciatica. Being physically active helps strengthen your muscles which supports your spine as well as other important structures in the body.

  • Walking: Going for a walk a few times a week is an excellent way to enjoy the weather and exercise. It’s best to walk in a good pair of sneakers that provide excellent foot support and skeletal shock absorption.
  • Stretching: Exercises such as tai chi and yoga can help reduce muscle tension through gentle stretching movements. They can also relieve mental tension and anxiety.
  • Core strengthening: Having strong core muscles is important for supporting and stabilizing the spine. If you have weak core and lower back muscles, your body will rely more on other structures for stability, such as ligaments (the connective tissues between bones), the spinal joints and discs, which lie between the spinal bones. When these more delicate structures are put under strain, it can cause back and/or sciatic pain. Therefore, having a strong core is important for enabling safe movements such as bending, twisting, and turning.

If you find that your sciatica pain does not diminish over time, or you develop serious symptoms like bowel/bladder dysfunction, foot drop, or fever, consult your healthcare provider.

5 Ways to Ease your Sciatica Pain

Sciatica is a type of low back pain that extends down your left or right buttock, into your leg, and even all the way to your foot. The pain can be intense in some cases. Conservative treatment is the first step in addressing sciatic nerve pain, and there are things you can do to ease your sciatica at home.

The sciatic nerve is the longest and largest nerve that travels through your body. With sciatica, the nerve becomes compressed usually from something like a bulging spinal disc, which irritates the nerve. The result is pain, abnormal sensation, and discomfort.

In most cases, sciatica improves with nonsurgical treatment, such as steroid injections. When more conservative treatments fail to relieve your symptoms, minimally invasive surgery to relieve sciatic nerve compression can bring much needed pain relief. But in the meantime, try our tips for easing your sciatica pain at home.

1. Alternate ice and heat

Hot and cold therapy are often effective at relieving sciatic nerve pain. Heat increases blood flow to the damaged area, while ice helps to relieve inflammation (which speeds healing). Sciatica is often accompanied by severe muscle spasms, which heat and cold can help.

Apply an ice pack for 15 minutes every hour to the sore area, then heat for 15 minutes every two or three hours. When utilizing heat or ice therapy, always use a barrier — such as a towel — to protect your skin. 

2. Practice good posture 

Poor posture can contribute to or exacerbate sciatica symptoms. Walking in a hunched position with your shoulders rounded and back curved shifts your weight and places added stress on your spine. This causes an overload on certain joints, triggering your muscles to work harder to support your spine. 

Keeping your spine in a neutral position relieves pressure on your joints and muscles and stabilizes your spine. Additionally, sitting too much in the same position and using poor posture when sitting contributes to back problems.

3. Relieve inflammation with NSAIDS 

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) sold over the counter may help relieve sciatica symptoms. NSAIDs are a suitable option because they address both inflammation and discomfort. 

4. Do some gentle stretches

Performing regular gentle stretches can go a long way in improving sciatica pain. Stretching is a great approach to increase spinal flexibility and range of motion while also strengthening your core and back. Most stretches for improving sciatica pain are simple enough to do at home while you read or watch TV. 

5. Incorporate light exercise

While it may seem counterintuitive to exercise when you’re in pain, resting too much can aggravate your back and leg pain. Instead, to relieve your sciatica, add light activity to your daily routine. Gentleness is the key: Stop if a movement causes you pain. Walking is a good place to start. A walk around the block is an excellent example of physical activity that strengthens and stabilizes your spine. 

When to see a doctor?

See your doctor if you have symptoms of sciatica. They can check what might be causing your symptoms.

It’s very important to see your doctor if you:

  • have severe pain at night or when you lie down
  • lose weight without trying to
  • feel unwell or have a fever
  • have tingling, numbness or weakness in both legs
  • have had an injury
  • feel unsteady when you walk
  • have pain and are younger than 16 or older than 50

You should see your doctor again if your symptoms last longer than 4 weeks or become worse.

How is sciatica diagnosed?

Your doctor can usually diagnose sciatica by asking about your pain and examining your spine and legs.

Most people with sciatica don’t need any tests. Your doctor may, however, arrange an x-ray or MRI scan of your spine if you have symptoms that suggest a more serious cause for your pain. If you have no signs of a serious cause, your doctor is most likely to recommend you wait and see if your symptoms get better. If they don’t get better, your doctor might arrange an imaging scan to inform what to do next.

How is sciatica treated?

Sciatica usually goes away in time. If your first experience of sciatica is sudden and severe, you may need to rest in bed for a short time — but not for longer than 2 days. It’s important to return to activity as soon as possible, to prevent your back becoming stiff and weak.

Ask your doctor or pharmacist about pain medicine, if pain is preventing you from regular activities. Try to go to work and do your usual activities. Take regular breaks and change your position often.

Other treatments may include:

If your symptoms persist, you might have an injection of steroid medicine into your spine. In rare cases you may need surgery.

Can sciatica be prevented?

You can lower your risk of sciatica by protecting your back, for example, by:

  • maintaining good posture
  • trying not to sit or stand for a long time — change positions frequently to reduce stress on your back
  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • getting regular exercise to improve your general fitness
  • doing exercises to strengthen your core muscles
  • lifting safely — bend your knees, not your back

Immediate relief for sciatica pain?

How do you get immediate relief from sciatica pain in the lower leg? Heat and ice may also help ease painful muscle spasms that often accompany sciatica. Apply an ice pack to the painful area for 15 minutes once every hour, and then apply heat for 15 minutes every two or three hours.

How to cure sciatica permanently?

Say goodbye to sciatic nerve pain in just 10 minutes with this natural method: This can be done through stretching, releasing muscle tension, and realigning your pelvis. Along with this, it may also help to practice yoga or other low-impact exercises that can help bring relief from sciatic nerve pain.

It may even be possible to reverse the issue entirely with physical therapy through a combination of strengthening and stretching exercises. Taking care of your back in this way can go a long way toward longer-lasting relief from discomfort in both the short-term as well as long-term management of sciatica pain.

Sciatica pain at night is worse why?

Lying down increases the amount of pressure being placed on your sciatic nerve. This pressure can intensify if you have a soft mattress that causes your spine to bend while you sleep. Other symptoms of sciatica may also prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep.

How to relieve sciatica pain pregnancy?

Treatments for sciatic pain during pregnancy include massage, chiropractic care, and physical therapy. Self-treatment of sciatic pain during pregnancy includes exercises to help stretch the muscles of the leg, buttocks, and hip to decrease the pressure on the sciatic nerve.

Sciatica pain so bad can’t walk

Many times, this kind of pain goes away within weeks and can be relieved by gentle stretching. But rarely, people with sciatica may also have more serious symptoms. If you’re experiencing tingling or numbness in your legs that makes it hard to walk or move, you should make a doctor’s appointment. If you’re having difficulty controlling your bladder or bowels, go to the emergency room right away.

What is the best way to sleep with sciatic pain?

How to relieve sciatica pain in bed: For best results, elevate the knees by placing one or more pillows beneath them. Make sure the neck is also supported with a pillow. On the side – Some people prefer to sleep on their side to relieve pressure on the back. It’s more comfortable to lie on the pain-free side with the sciatic side on the top.