How to Alleviate Sciatic Nerve Pain At-Home with Natural Remedies
February 19, 2021
By Chiro One Wellness Centers
If you’re ever experienced sciatic nerve impingement then you know firsthand how incredibly debilitating it can be. You’ve experienced the sharp, electric nerve pain that starts in your lower back, radiates through your glutes, and shoots past your calves in a way that unpleasantly makes your toes curl. And, you know how painstakingly desperate you become in those moments of intensity to have any sort of immediate relief. Good news, there are natural remedies you can apply at home to minimize and/or manage sciatica.
On average, around 40% of people will suffer from sciatica in their lifetime. To help reduce and/or relieve acute pain caused by sciatica we have compiled a list of natural remedies that you can apply at home. Body posture awareness, specific exercises, targeted stretching, the application of hot and cold therapy, and over the counter anti-inflammatory drugs are all ways you can improve the effects of sciatic nerve impingement. Learn more ways to apply self-care so that you can give yourself pain relief.
*Please keep in mind that these treatments do not replace seeing a specialist for a more thorough diagnosis. If your condition continues to persist, consider seeing a chiropractor for sciatica as soon as possible.
First Off, What is Sciatica?
Sciatica is a fairly common condition caused by irritation and/or compression of the sciatic nerve, the body’s longest nerve originating in the lower lumbar spine and traveling down each leg to your feet. Once aggravated the nerve can cause anything from mild discomfort to painful tingling in your lower extremities, numbness or weakness in your legs or feet, and in some cases the inability to control your bladder or bowel movements. Symptoms may differ from episode to episode as the nerve covers a fairly large amount of bodily real estate, and can stem from a variety of root causes.
Common causes for sciatic pain are irritation, inflammation, pinching or compression of the nerve either within the lower lumbar region or the deep gluteal region. Some conditions that cause sciatic pain are: poor body posture, a herniated disc (most common case), piriformis syndrome (tightening of a gluteal muscle that wraps around the nerve), spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal creates pressure on the nerve), spondylolisthesis (slippage of a vertebra, narrowing the nerve exit), and/or an injury affecting the area. Once you know more about how and why your sciatic nerve flares up, you can apply one or all of the following at-home treatments for pain relief.
Let’s Start with Postural Awareness
Let’s get started with a quick and easy postural fix that addresses unnecessary strain on your spine and hips. If you work at a desk for the majority of your day, pay attention to how your body is positioned within your chair. Do you slouch? Is there pressure on your sacrum and/or lower back? Does it hurt when you go to stand up? Are you bent over or is your body contorted in an unnatural way for long periods of time?
If you said yes to any or all of these questions then try the following:
- Sit up straight in your chair and allow the top of your hips (aka the area whereby a belt would lie on your torso) to roll slightly forward. This will allow a natural curve in your lumbar spine (low back) so that your upper thoracic (mid-back to shoulders) can rest more comfortably as you work.
- Take breaks. Get up and walk around once an hour, if not more, to keep the blood flowing and your body mobile. If you are experiencing a sciatic nerve flare-up this will help eliminate stagnation and further compression.
Engage in Exercises that Activate Your Back, Glutes, & Hamstrings
When you are in pain your natural instinct is to avoid physical activity and curl up in fetal position. Depending on the level of pain you are in and the degree of nerve impingement you are experiencing, low-impact exercises that activate your back and legs can be incredibly helpful. Ride a stationary bike, engage in a mild yoga practice, go swimming, or do water aerobics. These types of movements will continue to strengthen your back muscles and mobilize your hips.
If you’ve seen a chiropractor and have the green light to add in more specific exercises for the back, glutes, and hamstrings please do so. Stronger musculature helps support the spine and can alleviate spinal pressure, especially if the culprit to your sciatica is a herniated disc.
Stretch the Muscles Associated with Sciatic Pain
In some cases the sciatic nerve is pinched by inflammation or irritation of your body’s muscles within the low back, glutes, hamstrings, or calves. Stretching these areas in a slow, gentle fashion can help loosen tight muscles and increase blood flow. If you notice an increase in pain, stop immediately to avoid further aggravation of the nerve.
3 stretches that can help are as follows:
- Figure 4 or a Supine Glute Stretch. Lie on your back. Bend your knees so that they are stacked above your hips and your shins are parallel to the floor. Cross your right ankle over your left thigh, and thread your right hand between your legs. With your hands pull your left knee slightly towards you until you feel a stretch in your right glute. Hold for 15-30 sec, repeat 2-3 times per day. Repeat on the other side.
- Hip Flexor Stretch. Use a blanket or pillow under your knee if you need. Lunge your right leg forward at a 90 degree bend and place your left knee on the pillow. With your hands on your hips tuck your tailbone slightly down towards your back left foot. Keeping that tilt in your hips lean forward towards your right knee. You will feel a stretch in your back left thigh and hip crease. Hold for 15-30 sec, repeat 2-3 times per day. Repeat on the other side.
- Hamstring Stretch. Use a towel, strap, or long sleeve shirt to aid with this stretch. Lie on your back with legs straight and a pillow under your head if you’d like. Lift your right leg until you can wrap a strap around your calf or ankle. Straighten your right lifted leg as much as possible and begin to guide it closer to your face by pulling on the strap with both hands. Your left leg, the one on the ground can be bent if needed. Move your hands closer to your leg along the strap so that your arms are straight and your shoulders can relax. Hold for 15-30 sec, repeat 2-3 times per day. Repeat on the other leg.
Benefit with Cold & Heat Therapy
If your sciatic nerve is firing and your muscles feel angry apply cold and heat therapy. You can apply one or the either, or utilize contrast therapy which involves alternating applications of ice and heat to relieve the pain. The general rule of thumb here is to use ice for acute inflammation (apply for 10-15 min) and use heat for muscle stiffness (apply for no longer than 20 min).
If using the contrast therapy, begin 1 min cold, apply 3 min heat (repeat this pattern 3 times), then finish with 1 min cold. Do this 1 – 2 times per pay until the pain subsides.
For icing, use an ice pack, bag of ice, bag of peas or frozen fruit, and wrap it in a towel to avoid direct contact on your skin. The application will constrict the blood vessels, decrease the swelling, and add relief.
For heat, apply a hot pack, heat pad, or microwaved warm towel to increase circulation, reduce pain, and relieve cramping or aching muscles.
Reduce the Swelling with Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs, like Tylenol and Aleve, can provide significant pain relief by reducing inflammation. These over the counter medications should be taken per the instructions and approved by your doctor if you are taking alternative medications.
Find a Chiropractor for Sciatica
If your condition continues to worsen and/or persist, contact a chiropractor to help. Chiropractic care and adjustments are a non-invasive, viable option for treating the pain and symptoms associated with sciatic nerve issues. A 2006 study published in Spine Journal found that manipulations (adjustments) helped relieve pain due to acute back pain and sciatica. Another study published in 2010 found that 60% of sciatica patients (who hadn’t found relief from other therapies) experienced the same level of relief from chiropractic adjustments as patients who eventually had surgery.
Minimize and manage your sciatic pain with at-home natural remedies, however seek professional care and make an appointment to talk to your local chiropractic doctor to assure long term results. Your sciatic nerve will thank you.