Sciatica is a condition that causes pain, numbness and tingling in the lower back and legs. Most people can manage and find relief from sciatica with a few handy tips and changes to their daily routines. For more severe conditions, we can explore physical therapy and surgery.
What does sciatica feel like?
Did you know that the sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body? It’s also 1 of the most important ones, as it helps control and provide feeling to the lower half of your body.
If the sciatic nerve is pressured, injured or damaged, you can experience sciatica — a sharp, burning or tingling sensation that typically runs down one side of your buttock and leg. This can make important everyday tasks like standing, sitting or sleeping very difficult.
On a good note, most cases of sciatica go away on their own, and there are ways you can manage sciatica from the comfort of your home. If the pain persists or becomes too much to bear, our team of spine specialists can help you manage sciatic discomfort.
While anyone can have sciatica, it’s a condition that mostly affects people in their 40s. Sciatica can be caused by a variety of spine and disc-related injuries or conditions. The most common ones include:
Thanks to the body's incredible ability to heal itself, most cases of sciatica will resolve on their own. But it's important to be patient because it can take up to several months before you typically see improvement or make a full recovery.
Cold + heat therapy
Balancing cold and heat therapy can help ease sciatica pain from home. Starting with cold therapy for the first few days can help reduce swelling and inflammation in the lower back, legs or wherever you're feeling discomfort. Follow these cold therapy tips for the most relief:
- When applying ice (an ice pack or frozen vegetables), make sure to place a cloth between your skin and anything frozen to reduce the chance of ice burns.
- Be sure to apply cold therapy for only 20 minutes at a time and no more than 10 times daily.
After the swelling has gone down, heat therapy can reduce pain and stiffness. There are 2 types of heat therapy:
- Dry heat therapy: Includes electric heating pads and hot water bottles.
- Moist heat therapy: Include hot baths, steamed towels or moist heating packs.
Both are effective, and you can choose 1 or the other based on your preference. Remember to be careful when using heat therapy and experiment with both heat and cold therapies to find out which 1 works best for you. We're happy to help if you have any questions.
When your sciatica pain doesn't go away on its own, over-the-counter medication can help you manage the discomfort. There are many medications that can help with sciatica pain, and you can pick them up from your local pharmacy or grocery store.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin or ibuprofen help with sciatica pain and inflammation. You won't need a prescription to pick up these medications, but remember to read the label and follow the directions.
- Topical creams, gels and patches can relieve sciatica pain in the area where they're applied. Many of them mimic the sensation of heat and cold therapy.
If at-home remedies aren't helping resolve your sciatica pain, physical therapy may be the right treatment. Your physical therapist will work with you to strengthen the muscles near the sciatic nerve and create a treatment path tailored to your needs.
If any of the following describes your experience living with sciatica, it may be time to explore spinal surgery options:
- Other treatments aren't working.
- You're experiencing numbness in your legs or feet.
- Your quality of life is severely affected.