Sciatica is a sciatic nerve problem characterized by pain in the lower back and hip which is radiating down the back of the thigh, and further down the leg.
It is estimated that every adult experiences this type of pain, but the intensity may vary. In the beginning, pain will be mild and annoying, but if left untreated it can get progressively worse. The good news is you can treat it at home by following advises outlined in this article.
Sciatica is not a physical condition, it is just a common name for a group of symptoms associated with sciatic nerve irritation and compression. The following conditions may lead to this irritation:
Our spine is made up of individual bones called vertebrae, between each vertebra lies intervertebral disc – a cartilaginous structure which allows flexibility in the spine but also acts as a shock absorber, protecting the bones when we walk, run or jump.
Disc herniation, or slipped disc, is a condition where intervertebral disc slips out of its original place and puts pressure to the surrounding structures.
Herniation of the disc between lumbar vertebrae IV and V will put pressure and compress the L5 component of the sciatic nerve and cause pain we know as sciatica. It will also compress nerves passing to lower levels, as you can see on the image below:
Intervertebral Foramen Narrowing
Each pair of vertebrae forms intervertebral foramen (openinig in Latin) through which nerves exit the spinal column. It is not uncommon for these opening to become narrower over time and put pressure to the nerves passing through it. This is also one of the more common causes of sciatic nerve irritation.
Spondylolisthesis is a condition where a vertebra slides forward, out of its original position. In kids, this condition is most commonly caused by some congenital defect; while in adults it can develop as a result of wear and tear (arthritis).
A person may have spondylolisthesis without even knowing it, but some of the most common symptoms are:
- Lower back pain
- Tingling, pain and numbness in the buttocks
- Tenderness of the area and
- Muscle tightness
Sciatica In Pregnancy
Contrary to popular belief, sciatica is not more common in pregnancy. Though increased weight will put additional pressure to the spine and the entire back, structures around the sciatic nerve are generally not affected.
Chances are you would have developed sciatica whether you were pregnant or not.
Other common causes of this condition are:
- Bone spurs – also called osteophytes, are classified as natural bony projections which can grow along the edges of the bones. They are most common in individuals over 60 years old. Even though bone spurs are considered natural, if they start developing around the edges of the vertebrae (or along the intervertebral foramen), they can irritate the nerves and lead to sciatica
- Violent twisting motions and sudden spine flexing – violent twisting motions (during a golf swing) or sudden spine flexions (when a player gets tackled in football) in healthy individuals may damage intervertebral discs, causing them to protrude and compress the nerves
- Pelvic injuries or fractures
The most common symptom of sciatica is pain. Patients generally describe it as intense, sharp pain which starts in the lumbar spine and shoots down the buttocks and down the back of your leg.
There are cases where the pain is mild, felt only as slight tingling along the path of the nerve, but sometimes it feels like a sharp knife stabbing your but.
Pain may be worsened when coughing, standing or sitting for longer periods of time.
Medical history plays a key role in diagnosing sciatica. The doctor will sometimes be able to make the diagnosis solely based on it, but a physical examination is also required along with a chat with the patient regarding the symptoms and the exact location of the pain.
Doing an MRI or an X-ray initially may not be necessary, because herniated discs and bone spurs are commonly present in healthy individuals (without any symptoms). If the pain persists, however, imaging and lab studies may be required to better access the condition of the patient.
- X-ray – X-ray is used for detecting changes on the bones of the spine (bone spurs) and see if they are putting pressure to the nerves
- MRI – Magnetic resonance imaging is a technique used to produce cross-section images of your back using radio and magnetic wave technology. MRI`s advantage over X-ray is the ability to produce images of both bones and soft tissues, such as herniated discs, to see if they are compressing or irritating the nerves
- Lab studies – the doctor might order a blood test to detect infection or inflammation
- CT scan – CT is an imaging method that uses X-rays and requires special dye, called contrast, patient needs to take before the test starts. This dye will help certain areas to show better on the X-ray
The usual course of action for sciatica pain relief is self-care measures. These measures include activities patients can do on their own, usually in the comfort of their own home. And if the pain does not subside, doctor may suggest medication, steroid injections and surgery.
Home Treatment For Natural Pain Relief
The Importance Of Rest
Rest is a crucial component in sciatica relief and patient rehabilitation… but only during the initial flare up – first day or two. This will allow the body to start healing itself, the symptoms will subside and the pain will become less intense.
Many patients fall into the same trap of resting for too long. Avoiding exercises, stretches and activity, in general, will weaken the muscles. Weak muscles are unable to support your back properly which can lead to more pain!
Rest is only good if it is followed by a good exercise routine, which we will cover in the following chapters.
Ice and Heat
Ice an head can and should be combined with rest. They are easily accessible, inexpensive, easy to apply and, most importantly, very effective in providing relief from sciatica.
- Ice – applying ice will reduce inflammation and numb the tissue, resulting in pain alleviation around the path of the sciatic nerve. Ice should not come in direct contact with the skin, it would be best to wrap it in a piece of cloth and then apply for 15 minutes at a time, couple times a day, 2-7 days. You can also massage the area gently using an ice pack, rather than just holding it in one place
- Heat – heat will dilate blood vessels and supply more nutrients and oxygen to the area, this will help speed up the healing process. Heat is best used after that initial, “sharp” pain phase. For best results though, it is best to combine ice and heat
Stretches For Sciatica Pain Relief
Stretching and exercising routine usually comes after those few initial days of rest and it is designed to relax tense muscles, improve lower back flexibility and release sciatic nerve compression. NOTE: before starting with this exercise routine, it is advised to consult your doctor.
Knee To Chest
The main goal of this stretch is to improve the flexibility of your lower back.
Lie down on your back, flex your legs in the hip and in the knees (you can place a small pillow under your head). Bend your knee towards your chest, grab it with your hands and slowly increase the stretch. Stretch your leg as far as you are comfortable with and hold it for about 20 seconds. Repeat 5-10 times with each leg.
Lying Hamstring Stretch
Assume the same position as the previous exercise. Flex your knee towards your chest, grab your hamstring with your hands and slowly extend your leg in the knee. Hold the stretch for up to 20 seconds (shorter if you start to feel pain, tingling or discomfort) and repeat up to 5 times with each leg.
Keep in mind this stretch can be challenging if you are out of shape, so start out slow.
Deep Gluteal Stretch
This is one of the best deep stretches for glutes and piriformis muscle. Starting position is the same – lie down on your back, flex legs in knees and hips, but this time you need to rest your left foot (ankle) on your right knee.
Then grab your right knee and pull towards your chest, you will feel this stretch deep in the buttocks. Hold the stretch for up to 20 seconds and repeat couple times with each leg. (if you can`t grab your hamstring wrap a towel around it and grab on to it)
Push Up Position Stretch
This stretch is a bit more advanced and harder to do, but if you feel comfortable you should definitely incorporate it into your sciatic relief stretching routine.
Get in a push-up position, slide your right knee in line with your left shoulder and rotate your right ankle so that it is flat on the floor. After you assume this position, start pushing your hip toward the ground gently, stretching your hip. Hold this position for 30-60 seconds and repeat couple times with each leg.
Supine Crossed Leg Stretch
Lie down flat on your back with your legs extended. Cross your left leg so that the ankle is lateral to your right knee. Place your hands on your left thigh and push the leg inward. Hold the stretch for up to 10 seconds and repeat up to 10 times with each leg.
This is a simple standing lower back stretch. Stand up with your spine erect, straighten your legs and bend over slowly, as far as your flexibility allows it. Hold the stretch for up to 10 seconds and repeat 5-10 times.
Strengthening Exercises For Sciatica Relief
Without exercises, muscles become weak and unable to fully support the back, which may lead to the deterioration of the patient`s condition and increased pain.
Typically, strengthening exercises may be divided into two subgroups:
- Core strengthening exercises and
- Specific exercises depending on the diagnosis and the underlying cause of sciatica.
Most exercise programs will be tailored to the specific needs of the patient and depend on the cause of pain, so it is not advised to start them on your own. But if you want to strengthen your core, you can check out this short video with some basic core exercises (exercises are performed with a Swiss ball, you can get one cheap on Amazon.com; we`ve created a list of the best ones you can choose from, Click Here to see it):
Tens Machine For Sciatica
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is often used as an alternative to painkilling medication. It sends small electrical pulses through the skin which are then transmitted through the body.
So far, there has been no concrete scientific evidence to confirm the effectiveness of the TENS unit treatment, but the majority of patients who tried experienced short-term acute and chronic pain relief.
Most scientists are still unsure as to what causes this pain relief, but there are two predominant theories:
- Scrambling normal pain signals – the electrodes stimulate nerves in the surrounding area and interfere with normal pain signals that are being sent to the brain. This disruption leads to the feeling of pain relief
- Endorphin production – endorphins are painkillers body produces naturally. It is believed that this steady flow of electricity helps the body produce more endorphins
TENSE units for home use are generally not expensive, and if you are interested in trying one out, we recommend Zewa Spabuddy.
Spinal Decompression and Inversion Tables
Spinal decompression involves stretching the spine using a motorized decompression machine or a decompression table. It is based on the principles of spinal traction performed by chiropractors and other health professionals.
The main goal of spinal decompression procedure is to take the pressure off damaged spinal discs and allow herniations and bulges to retract.
Inversion (table) therapy involves being upside down at an inverted angle. When the body`s weight is suspended from the lower body (when you are hanging by the feet on the inversion table) the gravity may decompress the joints and align them. This method has been used for centuries but if you are looking to invest in it, you should consult your doctor first.
Best Creams For Pain Relief
We already stated that sciatica is not a physical condition and, as such, it can`t be “cured;” all the creams which promise this are usually using this claim for advertising purposes. A good cream should address the symptoms, deal with the problem of inflammation and reduce pain.
Using A Cushion To Fight Sciatica
A cushion will not slide your disc back into its place, it won`t strengthen your muscles and reduce the inflammation… but, a medically proven orthopedic cushion should:
- Encourage correct sitting posture
- Reduce pressure on your lower back and coccyx
- Adjust to the weight of your body and
- Does not flatten after prolonged use
Adjusting your seated posture alone can relieve pain and it is beneficial with people suffering from sciatica, hernia or have poor posture. Which is why a good memory foam cushion is never a bad investment:
How can you prevent the most common symptoms and causes of sciatica? You need to:
- Practice good Alignment and Posture – most jobs today result in an unnatural alignment of the spine (slouching the shoulders, bending forward), so it is crucial that you maintain proper posture and keep the back straight to prevent the discs from popping out
- Strengthen your core muscle – these muscles protect the spine and help the back support our upper body. Keeping the abdominals and the back muscles strong and in good shape should be one of your top priorities
- Be aware of your body and daily activities – you need to keep a close eye on the activities you perform on a daily basis; whether it is picking up your briefcase off the floor or taking your child into your arms, you need to keep your alignment and bend with your knees, rather than your back
- Buy a firm mattress – your mattress should be firm enough to support your entire body and keep your spine straight. Also, the pillow needs offer proper neck support
Your most important takeaway from this article should be that sciatica is not a condition in itself, this is just a label we use for a group of symptoms corresponding with problems with the sciatic nerve. So, by addressing the symptoms you might get a temporary pain relief, but the underlying cause of your sciatic pain will still be there.
This is the reason I am bringing up a certain e-book I came across some time ago. The book is called Sciatica SOS and was written by Glen Johnson. What I like about this book is that, rather than just offering you a number of different exercises to choose from, it is divided into 6 different sections:
- EfS (exercises for sciatica) caused by a herniated disc
- EfS caused by spinal stenosis
- EfS caused by degenerative disc disease
- EfS caused by isthmic spondylolisthesis
- Efs caused by problems with piriformis muscle
- Efs caused by sacroiliac joint problems
As you can see, you will get a different set of exercises based on the underlying cause of your sciatica pain. The book also covers traditional pain relief options along with some quite interesting home remedies you should definitely try!
All in all, this is a great little e-book that will definitely help you experience pain relief in days!
But that`s not all, I`ve got two great news for all you who are interested in getting this e-book today:
- A huge discount – the book is currently on a 52% discount! I don`t know how long this discount will last so my advice is to get it sooner rather than later.
- Full 60-day money back guarantee – the book is not only on a huge discount, but it also comes with a full 60-day money back guarantee meaning you can buy the book, give those exercises a try over the course of 60 days and if you find the book was not helpful you can just contact the seller and get your money back.
To find out more about the book (and buy it), click here – Sciatica SOS
- (2014.) K.L. Moore, A.F. Dalley, A.M.R. Agur, Chapter 4. – Back, Clinically Orientated Anatomy
- Image 1 source: (2014.) K.L. Moore, A.F. Dalley, A.M.R. Agur, Chapter 4. – Back, Clinically Orientated Anatomy, page 475
- (September 11. 2012.) CT Scan, MedlinePlus. Retrieved from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003330.htm
- (May 24. 2004.) R. Schultz, Sciatica First Aid, Spine-Health. Retrieved from http://www.spine-health.com/conditions/sciatica/sciatica-first-aid
- Image 2 source: http://www.webmd.com/back-pain/ss/slideshow-visual-guide-to-sciatica
- Image 3,4,5 source: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Backpain/Pages/sciatica-exercises.aspx
- Image 6 source: http://www.rice.edu
- Image 7 source: http://www.spine-health.com/wellness/exercise/stretches-and-exercise-sciatic-pain-piriformis-syndrome
- (March 12.2014.) Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) – Topic Overview, WebMD. Retrieved from: http://www.webmd.com/pain-management/tc/transcutaneous-electrical-nerve-stimulation-tens-topic-overview
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