Conditions > Sciatica Pain
Natural Sciatica Pain Relief
- Sciatica can typically be distinguished by pain that extends below your knee and into your foot and toes, numb spots on the skin running along your sciatic nerve, and electric-like pain sensations.
- Even if you are experiencing the symptoms listed below, you may not have a compressed sciatic nerve.
- Sciatica treatment regimens should involve a combination of daily stretching routine, heating and warming of the area, relaxation techniques, medical acupuncture, osteopathic manipulation, and prolotherapy for chronic cases.
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What is sciatica?
Sciatica is the term used to describe sciatic nerve pain. Specifically, pain resulting from your sciatic nerve being pinched or pressed against and causing pain in your buttock, leg, and foot. It’s painful and uncomfortable, but most sciatica cases do resolve themselves within 3-6 weeks.
It’s important to note that the pain you're experiencing may not be coming from your sciatic nerve. One common giveaway of sciatica pain is pain that extends below your knee and into your foot and toes. If it doesn’t, you may actually be experiencing lower back pain and not sciatic nerve pain.
However, as with all pain, each case is unique. In fact, you may have sciatica and not feel any pain! Or you may be in a great deal of pain and not actually have an irritated sciatic nerve. So what options do you have if you have pain and you suspect it might be sciatica? Let’s examine.
The symptoms listed below are most often found in sciatica sufferers. However, as with most pain, every individual is different and each case of lower back, buttock, and leg pain is unique. And nerve pain is even more of a mystery.
Your sciatic nerve, which is the longest nerve in your body, is most surrounded by the muscles and joints in the lower back and buttock area. The lower back and buttock area is therefore most often where the sciatic nerve can be pinched or irritated.
Even if you are experiencing the symptoms listed below, you may not have a compressed sciatic nerve. At the same time, you may have a compressed sciatic nerve and not experience any of these symptoms.
So what does sciatica typically feel like? Based on pain patterns of the majority of sciatica sufferers…
- You have pain that extends below your knee.
- You have tingling sensations in the feet or along your legs.
- You have patches of numb skin where light touch is not felt.
Common sciatica causes
- Sports injury that results in a herniated disc, which then presses on your sciatic nerve (less common than you think!)
- Car accident that causes your spine to compress and rupture a intervertebral disc, which again presses on your sciatic nerve.
- Carrying a bulky wallet in your back pocket can result in your piriformis muscle pressing on your sciatic nerve (this is called wallet sciatica).
- Excess weight can lead to overstretched ligaments that result in muscles surrounding the ligament to tighten and press against your sciatic nerve.
The reason disc problems are not as common of a sciatica cause as people think is because it’s actually quite difficult for a herniated disc to pinch the sciatic nerve.
So, is it sciatica pain or something else?
While sciatica pain comes from nerve irritation, lower back pain (and most other pain) comes from muscle and ligament pain. Both hurt and both cause discomfort, but there a few key differences between nerve pain, and muscle and ligament pain.
- Sciatica almost always includes numb spots on the skin; muscle pain typically does not.
- With sciatica, pain in your legs is far worse than in your buttocks and hips. If the pain is worse in the lower back or buttocks, you are probably not experiencing nerve pain.
- Sciatic nerve pain is often electric-like; muscle and ligament pain is on-going, dull, and throbbing.
The remainder of this article will present natural treatment options for sciatica. You’ll notice there is little mention of surgery, and an emphasis on relaxation to reduce anxiety. This is because surgery offers little more benefit (even less when considering prolotherapy treatments) and anxiety is one of the least discussed factors of sciatica pain.
If you’re suffering from acute or chronic nerve pain, your treatment regimen should involve a combination of the following:
- Daily stretching routine
- Heating and warming of the area
- Relaxation techniques
- Medical acupuncture
- Prolotherapy injections for chronic sufferers
An important point: most sciatica pain resolves itself within 3-6 weeks. Some people will go on to develop chronic sciatic nerve pain, but far fewer than you might think! If you have chronic sciatica, you can jump to chronic sciatica pain relief by clicking here.
Regardless of what’s causing your sciatica – whether it is a herniated disc or a tight piriformis muscle – stretching can assist in creating space for a pinched sciatic nerve as well as release muscle tension.
Before you begin any kind of stretching, remember to start any stretching routine gently and slowly. The types of stretches you do will depend on the type of nerve irritation you’re experiencing. Here are two stretches I recommend, the cat-cow stretch and the piriformis stretch.
Warm up with cat-cow stretch
Cat-cow stretch: Using a soft mat (or chair if you’re unable to kneel down), start by getting on your hands and knees. As you begin to inhale, slowly tilt your pelvis toward the ground as you move your belly towards the ground, and tilt your chin upwards. Continue until you feel a gentle pull in your hips. As you begin to exhale, slowly round your spine and lower your chin to your chest, just like a cat stretching. Continue until you feel a gentle pull in your lower and middle back.
The piriformis stretch targets (you guessed it) your piriformis muscles. Start in a seated position with both of your legs in front of you. Place one ankle on the outside of the opposite knee and slowly bring your belly towards your thigh. Continue until you feel a stretch in your buttock. Gently lay your leg down and repeat on opposite side.
Psoas muscle stretch
To stretch your psoas muscle, lie back and bring your left knee up to your chest and hold it there as you breathe. As you breathe out, slowly stretch out your right leg while you hold your left knee. Hold your right leg as stretched out as is comfortable while keeping your pelvis flat on the floor and breathe in. As you breathe out, relax your right leg. Repeat this stretch on both legs as often as needed.
As with all pain, anxiety and worry only make pain feel worse. Meditation is a great way to quiet your mind and train it to think less about the things that increase your anxiety. If you’re new to meditation, I recommend Cleveland Clinic’s Stress app which offers excellent introductory meditation.
If you are anxious about your sciatica pain, realize most cases do resolve on their own. There are ways to reduce your pain – using over-the-counter pain medication for immediate relief or acupuncture treatments for a more natural solution. And if you are suffering from chronic sciatica, prolotherapy treatments can address the underlying causes of the problem. Few people have to live with sciatica for the remainder of their lives.
Medical acupuncture for sciatica
Before starting your acupuncture treatments, realize you will likely require 5-10 treatments before experiencing significant relief. In some cases, you may not experience any pain relief until your fifth visit. In other cases, you may feel relief after your first treatment. The point is that it will take more than one visit for substantial results to occur.
So how can acupuncture help sciatica sufferers? Acupuncture treatments increase blood flow to the target area, bringing with it your body’s healing properties that heal damaged ligaments. Damaged ligaments cause your muscles to stay tight, and cause ongoing pain. Acupuncture releases these muscles and changes how your brain processes pain, reducing pain and discomfort.
If you’re suffering from a herniated disc, acupuncture will not be able to fix the physical problem but it can assist in how you react to the pain without drugs and medications.
Osteopathic manipulation treatment for sciatica
Osteopathic manipulation for sciatica is a very gentle, hands-on treatment technique. An osteopathic physician uses the hands as a fulcrum to balance your body and uses your own breathing or gravity to gently bring muscles, bones, and joints back into alignment to correct the body.
Typically, osteopathic manipulation treatments don’t involve a lot of thrusting, twisting, or cracking types of motion. When performed correctly, more gentle touch can be much more effective.
Prolotherapy for sciatica
Prolotherapy is a regenerative medicine treatment. The treatment itself is a series of injections that causes inflammation to occur at the injection site. Inflammation prompts your body to increase blood flow to the area and with it, healing properties which rebuild and strengthen any damaged ligament tissue.
Typically, there are two types of prolotherapy injections to treat sciatica: dextrose prolotherapy and platelet-rich plasma (PRP) prolotherapy. Both are effective and your doctor can better advise what type of injection works best for your situation. Once damaged ligaments are restored, the surrounding muscles can return to balance.
Final thoughts & Summary
- Sciatica can typically be distinguished by pain that extends below your knee and into your foot and toes.
- Recurring or chronic sciatica can be very difficult to treat on your own. stretching and heat can be very helpful.
- A lot of "sciatica-like" pain is caused by other reasons such as misalignment of the spine, muscle pain, ligament pain, and trigger points.
- Proper treatment involves a combination of gentle stretching, osteopathic manipulation, acupuncture.
- Prolotherapy can be used to heal ligament damage which causes muscle pain which is very similar to sciatica pain.