Back pain can be debilitating and leave you feeling limited and trapped. It can make tying your shoe, picking up objects, or even sitting in a chair uncomfortable. There are many types of back pain, but there is one in particular that can be especially excruciating—sciatic nerve pain.
The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body, and when it’s compressed or impacted, then sciatic nerve pain can be the result. Sciatic pain can make everyday things painful... even coughing. Although there are medications like muscle relaxers that can help relieve sciatic nerve pain, there are also effective, natural methods for treating it.
What is Sciatic Nerve Pain?
Sciatic nerve pain is a compression of the sciatic nerve. This nerve extends down the length of your legs. When aggravated, it can cause burning low back pain as well as pain that radiates from the buttocks down one leg. Some describe sciatic nerve pain, or sciatica, as a “shock" feeling that can sometimes reach all the way to the foot or toes. Numbness and muscle weakness can occur in certain cases when the sciatic nerve is pinched between the disc and adjacent bone.
Besides compression of the nerve by bones, sciatic nerve pain is also commonly caused by a ruptured intervertebral disk or a tumor or cyst that presses on the sciatic nerve or its roots. Other causes of sciatica include narrowing of the spinal canal that puts pressure on the nerve, also called spinal stenosis, or injuries like pelvic fractures.
Risk factors of sciatica can include weight gain, weak back and abdominal muscles, pregnancy, or jobs that involve heavy lifting, pushing, or pulling. Also, smoking, mental stress, and sitting for long periods of time can contribute to sciatic nerve pain. If the cause of your sciatica can be discovered, then treatment can be customized to the cause, which can maximize the effectiveness of treatment methods.
Common Treatment Options of Sciatica
There are many different treatment options for sciatica, depending on what's causing it. Medicines like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin or ibuprofen, as well as muscle relaxers, steroid injections, and other pain medications are pharmaceutical go-to’s for treating sciatic nerve pain. Though NSAIDs are effective for a short period of time, they address only the symptoms and not the root cause of sciatica, so caution must be taken; they should not be considered a final solution. Also, long-term daily use of NSAIDs can cause a number of very serious health issues.
Spinal injections of cortisone-like medications are also used sometimes to help reduce inflammation and pain associated with sciatic nerve pain. But this cannot be done often, and comes with some serious potential side-effects as well. In cases where such traditional pharmaceutical treatments don’t work, some people may require surgery to remove the herniated disc or tissue that is compressing on the sciatic nerve.
However, if you are just starting to experience sciatic pain or you want to avoid the possibility of having to rely on too many medicines to help relieve your pain, then there are some natural treatments you can try. Read on for our four top natural treatment options for sciatic nerve pain.
Four natural ways to treat sciatic nerve pain
If you don’t want to be taking pain medicines every day, or at least want to cut down on such treatments, then try these five natural treatments for sciatic nerve pain.
Chiropractic adjustment, or manipulation, may help some people with sciatic nerve pain. These adjustments can restore spinal movement, which in turn improves function and decreases pain. However, this type of treatment may be more appropriate for those with low back, and not as helpful for those that have radiating pain. Research shows that spinal manipulation, in conjunction with regular exercise, had even better outcomes than spinal manipulation alone. Such exercises may include physical therapy exercises that help correct your posture, improve flexibility, and strengthen the muscles in your back.
Any exercise that helps improve flexibility may help reduce sciatic nerve pain by relieving nerve root compression. Because of this, yoga could help those with sciatic nerve pain. In fact, research shows that yoga can help reduce the pain and disability in those with sciatic nerve pain, with few exceptions. In particular, Iyengar yoga, which focuses on posture performance and breath control, has been found to have short-term effectiveness in reducing back and neck pain. It is important to note though, that any yoga exercises performed while experiencing sciatic nerve pain should be focused movements that don’t involve any jerking, bouncing, or twisting since this could aggravate the nerve.
Deep Tissue Massage
Deep tissue massage is a type of massage that focuses on the deeper layers of muscle and fascia, which can reduce stress hormones and help relieve chronic aches and pains like back pain. Deep tissue massage has been found to be a natural treatment to reduce sciatic nerve pain in some people. In fact, some research shows that deep tissue massage alone can relieve back pain just as effectively as conventional NSAIDs taken along with deep tissue massage treatments. However, it is important to note that some people, such as those who have a history or risk of blood clots, those who are pregnant, those recovering from surgery or chemotherapy, those with osteoporosis, or those with rashes or tumors, should not use deep tissue massage as a treatment option for sciatica.
Anti-inflammatory Lifestyle Changes
Since sciatic nerve pain is a form of inflammation in the body, anti-inflammatory lifestyle behaviors may help reduce sciatic nerve pain. Some external anti-inflammatory treatments may include cold packs for 20 minutes at a time, several times a day on the painful area. If this doesn’t work after several days, then hot packs, or alternating hot and cold packs may help.
Measures that can help discourage internal inflammation for sciatic nerve pain include changes in eating, taking curcumin daily, and quitting smoking. Research shows that plant-based diets, which are rich in antioxidants from fruits and vegetables can promote normal levels of inflammation in the body and help those with neuropathic pain related to type 2 diabetes. Study results also show promise that a diet to help reduce inflammation can make a big difference in those with inflammatory conditions like sciatica. In addition, the antioxidant, compound curcumin, which is the active ingredient in the spice turmeric, has been found to provide health benefits to those with sciatica. Research shows that daily curcumin use may be a safe and effective supplement that supports immune and joint health.
Not all back pain is created equal. Sciatic nerve pain can be a debilitating condition. And although there are many treatments out there in the form of a pill, there are also several natural options as well. If these natural treatments don’t work for you, then be sure to visit a qualified healthcare provider for other treatment options.