Sciatica is one of the most common causes of lower back pain that extends down to the legs. It occurs due to compression of the root of the sciatic nerve as it emerges from the spinal cord. Depending on the cause, it can be a chronic condition that requires surgery. However, many people do not realize that not every case of sciatica is permanent. In fact sciatica can resolve on its own sometimes without even using any medication, let alone undergoing surgery. It depends on each individual case. But the fact is that simple home remedies and preventative measures can make a significant difference in easing symptoms and even leading to almost complete sciatica pain relief.
Exercises For Sciatic Compression
Contrary to popular belief, strict bed rest and immobilization is not recommended for sciatica. Understandably the pain may be worse when moving and particularly in certain positions but it can also be worsened by being immobile, particularly when lying down for long periods. The right types of exercise to ease sciatic nerve compression can be helpful but it should only be done if you doctor and physical therapist recommends it. More importantly is learning and repeating the right exercises as per your physical therapist’s guidance.
Stretching can help relieve sciatic nerve pain and improve the outcome, depending on the nature and seriousness of the condition. It is more effective when it is associated with muscle-related causes of sciatica like in piriformis syndrome. However, even if you have a degenerated disc or bony spurs pressing on the sciatic nerve, your physical therapist can still show you exercises that may help with pain relief. Remember that while exercises may help relieve pain and even prevent sciatica, is it not a ‘cure’ for sciatica.
Cold Packs And Heat Therapy For Sciatica
Using heat and cold therapy is a simple but effective means of alleviating sciatica pain. When the pain arises and is intense, cold therapy should be started. It is particularly useful after any activity that suddenly brings about the sciatica pain or worsens it almost overnight. Cold therapy involves using ice packs over the affected area. In order to tolerate the cold, the ice pack should be gently circled on and around the painful several times in a day for about 20 minutes at a time. Two to three days of cold therapy may be sufficient before heat therapy is commenced.
Heat therapy can be used on an ongoing basis for easing and preventing the onset of sciatica pain. A hot water bottle, microwavable wheat bag or electric heat pad are all useful devices for heat therapy. For those who have it, heat lamps are also good. The heat should be focused on the painful area. It should be hot but not scalding and unbearable. When heat is not yielding the desired result, go back to cold therapy for a while and see if it helps relieve the pain. Otherwise try alternating heat and cold therapy.
Bend At The Knees When Lifting Heavy Objects
We are all well aware of the right way and the wrong way to pick up heavy objects. However, all too often we ignore or forget what should be done or not done. When picking up a heavy object, it is important to bend at the knees and lift rather than bending over and straightening thereafter. The wrong action that is done repeatedly or even a single instance of picking a very heavy object can contribute to conditions like lower back pain and sciatica, if not immediately then in the long term.
Just as important for sciatic patients is practicing the right way of lifting heavy objects. Even if you have been relatively pain free for weeks or months, just one occasion of bending over to lift a heavy object is sufficient to trigger a flare up. When such actions are part of your occupation, it is important to get the right advice from a physical therapist. Also consult with an occupational therapist who can guide you on ways to manage your work-related tasks without placing strain on the back and aggravating your sciatica.
Maintain A Good Posture When Sitting or Standing
The importance and benefit of maintaining a good posture when sitting and standing cannot be overstressed, especially if you suffer with sciatica. It allows force to be transmitted downwards while maintaining the natural curvatures of the spine. This can shift some of the pressure of the nerve root and relieve sciatic pain. It can also help prevent sciatica in some instances. But developing a good posture will require some degree of training and practice in order to get the right position and maintain it on a regular basis.
A physical therapist can help guide you on what is considered as a good posture. But a simple way to do it on your own is to look in a mirror and make sure that you are standing up straight from both a front and side view. Another way to remember it is that your ears should be in line with your shoulders, which in turn should be in line with your hip. The shoulders should be pulled back and the chest pushed out slightly. But do not over correct your posture – you can in fact place more strain on the back and worsen sciatic pain.
Traction For Easing Pressure On The Nerve
Lumbar traction was a popular method for treating sciatica. It is still widely used, but not so much in health care facilities. The thinking is that force applied in two opposing directions will ease the pressure on the sciatica nerve. It appears logical for sciatica caused by conditions like a herniated or degenerated IV disc. However, research shows that the benefits of lumbar traction in various studies is inconclusive. Despite the mixed results, it remains one of the popular home care methods for relieving sciatic nerve pain.
There are a host of devices on the market that may be useful for the purpose of lumbar traction. But it is important to first speak to your doctor and physical therapist. Some of these devices may do more harm than good despite the convincing ads promising a cure in 7 days or your money back. Also check with your local regulatory authorities to verify that the device is safe to use. Since some of these devices use gravity or weights, if not used properly it could cause serious injury within the home.