How to Treat Sciatic Nerve Pain
It's a significant discomfort when you experience pain in the butt area, and in the case of sciatica, that pain extends to the leg and foot. But it's not just enough that you have to experience pain this frustrating. The discomfort you feel is kept company by numbness, tingling and weakness.
Sciatic nerves are the longest nerves in the body and as such, it runs from the base of the spine down to the deep muscles of the buttocks and down to the back of each leg. A study highlighted that about 40% of adults have experienced sciatica. While a lot of the cases can be resolved with analgesia and physiotherapy, there are cases when the condition becomes chronic and difficult to manage.
A variety of causes leads to sciatica, the most common of which is when a herniated disk or bone spur on the spine presses part of the nerve. When this happens, inflammation, pain and numbness occur.
Given the many reasons sciatica can occur, what are the possible ways to bring relief from the condition?
A herbal medication that works like ibuprofen and similar drugs in inhibiting substances that drive inflammation. Make sure to look for a brand that has a standardized extract of about 50 mg harpagoside, the active compound. While most can tolerate the supplement, those with peptic ulcers or those on blood-thinning medications should avoid it.
There are brands providing Devil's Claw in capsule format such as Nature's Way, NOW Foods, The Vitamin Shoppe and Solaray.
Epidural Steroid Injections
Raj Rao, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, says that those whose pain doesn't reduce within a month and aren't helped with any therapies can opt for this procedure. What it does is reduce inflammation within the nerve branch.
Exercise and Physical Therapy
Although moving about is the last thing those with sciatica want to do, being physically active is also important. Birgit Ruppert, a physical therapist at the Spine Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, said that lying in bed makes the pain last longer.
With exercise, blood flow to the disk and nerve is increased which help eliminate the chemicals causing inflammation. A suggestion would be to take 15 to 20 minute walks, but if that contributes to too much pain, water aerobics or swimming is another option as there isn't much pressure on the back in the water.
Seeing a physical therapist also helps as they can prescribe stretching exercises to bring back flexibility to the back, as well as moves that strengthen the core muscles which leads to stabilizing the spine and limiting the chances of a similar injury.
Pain Relievers and Muscle Relaxants
A non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, be it an over-the-counter or with doctor's recommendation, can help ease the pain. In case painful muscle spasms occur, doctors also prescribe muscle relaxants or pain-reducing tricyclic antidepressants. Although, A. Nick Shamie, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons says that treatments like these “won't help with the pain caused by pressure on the sciatic nerve.”
This is a route you can take if you don't like to take drugs or go into surgery. As Mayo Clinic points out, those who have severe sciatica even after weeks of treatment can opt for surgery to relieve pressure on the nerve. But for those who don't have the financial resources to go through such procedures can look into alternative ways to ease the pain.
Most would choose an option where they don't have to do anything that extensive or have to fork out a load of cash. The Treat Sciatica NOW eBook offers a step-by-step method on how the condition can be treated in less than seven days and in as little as eight minutes – and that is regardless of what caused your sciatica.
Acupuncture points in the skin are located along channels which are said to conduct qi, an energy or vital force of the body. As fine needles are inserted into these channels, pain resulting from blockage of qi flow is eliminated. By stimulating the channels, the central nervous system is stimulated as well. As a result, chemicals are released that change the experience of pain or create changes that encourage a sense of well-being.
A study published in the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine looked into this and saw that acupuncture helped 17 of the 30 participants. The 17 were said to experience complete relief.
For the study, researchers used heated needles. According to Jingduan Yang, assistant professor at the Jefferson Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University, “You can get relief as soon as the first session, though it takes about 12 sessions to see improvement.”
A 2010 study in the Journal of Manipulative Physiological Therapeutics found that 60% of people with sciatica who tried spinal manipulation felt the same degree of pain relief than those who opted for surgery.
The chiropractic care study saw 120 people visit a chiropractor three times a week for four weeks. They continued with weekly visits and gradually lessened them when they felt better. Those who responded to chiropractic care benefited up to a year.
A researcher involved with the study, Gordon McMorland of National Spine Care in Calgary, Alberta said: “Spinal manipulation may create a response in the nervous system that relieves pain and restores normal mobility to the injured area.” He added, “It also reduces inflammation, creating an environment that promotes the body's natural healing mechanisms.”
The sciatic nerve sits under a muscle called piriformis which is found beneath the glutes. According to American Massage Therapy Association vice president Jeff Smoot, “When the piriformis muscle gets tight, it pinches the sciatic nerve, causing tingling and numbness down into the leg.” As such, you shouldn't expect a relaxed massage session. Smoot says that trigger-point therapy works best in this scenario.
During the procedure, pressure is applied to inflamed areas or trigger points in the piriformis muscle and muscles in the lower back and glutes. In Smoot's case, patients come in for scheduled treatments seven to 10 days apart. Another form of therapy would be recommended if progress isn't seen by the fourth visit.
Dana Santas developed Radius Yoga Conditioning, a yoga style meant for athletes to move, breathe and focus better. Her client list includes the Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, Tampa Bay Lightning, Orlando Magic and many more professional athletes in the four big leagues in the US: NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB. In an article for CNN, she highlighted six ways to stop sciatica pain with yoga. As someone who's suffered from sciatica and worked with several athletes afflicted with the condition, she has customized yoga programs for various causes.
Among the positions Santas has suggested include:
- modified boat with block – for those with lumbar-spine related sciatica as it can strengthen deep core muscles to stabilize low back.
- modified pyramid – a combination of hamstring stretching and pelvis resetting.
- pigeon pushup – a piriformis-stretching pose for the front leg and a hip-flexor stretch for the back leg.
In addition, a study in the journal Pain also saw those who practiced lyengar yoga for 16 weeks saw pain lessened by 64% and disability by 77%. James W. Carson, a psychologist at the Comprehensive Pain Center at Oregon Health & Science University, yoga can help sciatica sufferers to “move and function better so they don't fall into a posture that aggravates the sciatica.”
Patients can opt for surgery if pain doesn't subside in four to six weeks of treatment. According to the Spine Patient Outcomes Research Trial, those who opted for surgery on a herniated disk saw a significant decrease in pain and disability three months after than those who did not. In addition, the benefits lasted for four years.
Ice or Heat
Although not very effective options, they do bring down the pain a notch. The sciatic nerve is deep within the buttock and leg and applying heat or cold on to the surface of the body won't ease the inflammation. But if just to alleviate yourself for a moment, you can apply an ice pack or a heating pad for 15 minutes.
Tierana Low Dog, the director of the fellowship at Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, says that the liniment St John's Wort is “one of her favorites for nerve pain.” The anti-inflammatory oil needs to be applied two or three times a day in the area where pain is experienced. Brands such as Nature's Way and Herb Pharm offer this liniment.
Other recommendations include:
- an over-the-counter plaster or cream
- capsaicin – found in chiles and can block the release of pain-causing compounds from nerves
- Qutenza – a prescription chile patch designed for shingles pain
Sciatica is a pain in the butt – so to speak. That said, there are a number of ways to alleviate the discomfort caused by the condition, solutions that range from self-care methods to alternative procedures.