There are many different kinds of back pain, and sciatica is one of the most common. About 40% of adults experience the symptoms at least once in their life, and there are several factors that can increase your risk.
Sciatica refers to any symptoms caused by compression of the sciatic nerve that runs from your lower back to just below your knee. It usually shows up on one side of your body as a burning sensation or radiating pain that starts in your lower back and continues down your leg.
The most common cause is a herniated disc, which accounts for 90% of cases. The intensity can vary too. Symptoms can range from brief and mild to chronic and debilitating.
Find out what’s causing your back aches. Learn more about diagnosing, preventing, and treating sciatica.
Self-Care for Sciatica
Most cases of sciatica will clear up within 4 to 8 weeks with simple home remedies. Seek immediate care if you notice accompanying symptoms like numbness, fever, or loss of bladder control. Otherwise, you may find relief by trying these steps first.
- Move more. A sedentary lifestyle can trigger sciatica and make you feel worse. If sitting becomes uncomfortable, get a standing desk or take a walk.
- Strengthen and stretch. Exercises that extend your range of motion and build muscles in your lower body are especially helpful. Practice yoga poses like pigeon and tree that externally rotate your hip. Do squats and lunges a few times a week.
- Check your posture. Proper alignment takes pressure off your spine. Lift your chest and gently squeeze your shoulder blades together. Pull your hips up toward your bottom rib.
- Apply heat or cold. Ease aches and pains with heat packs or a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a towel. You may prefer heat or cold or alternating between the two.
- Wear flats. The dressy sandals and boots you love may be straining your back. Save high heels for special occasions.
- Change your mattress. Bedding that is too hard or soft can aggravate sciatica too. You may need a new mattress if you wake up stiff each morning.
- Lose weight. Shedding excess pounds can slow down disc degeneration, especially if you carry most of your body fat around your waistline. Losing even modest amounts of weight could help you to relieve sciatica without surgery.
Medical Care for Sciatica
If you need more assistance, there are surgical and nonsurgical options. Many different kinds of treatment can help make sciatica easier to live with.
- See your doctor. If your symptoms persist for more than 8 weeks or grow worse, call your doctor for an appointment. Diagnosing your back pain correctly is the first step towards receiving effective treatment.
- Try physical therapy. Your doctor may refer you to a physical therapist. They can design an individual program to target your problem areas.
- Talk about it. You might be surprised to hear that a psychologist could help you with back pain. However, many patients make amazing progress with cognitive behavioral therapy that encourages healthy thoughts and habits.
- Take medication. In the meantime, over the counter or prescription drugs may increase your comfort level. Follow your doctor’s recommendations for which painkillers are appropriate for you.
- Consider surgery. Many patients experience dramatic relief following surgery for sciatica. These procedures can include removing the herniated disc or widening the spinal cord in the lower back.
You’ll probably notice some back and neck aches as your spine ages, but it’s worth seeing your doctor if you experience major discomfort or any symptoms that interfere with daily activities. Lifestyle changes and medical care often provide significant relief for sciatica and similar conditions, so you can lead a healthier and happier life.