Sciatica pain is unfortunately quite common, affecting an estimated 40 percent of people at some point in their lifetime. Its occurrence can be attributed to the general instability and risk of injury in the lower back, which is most prone to conditions such as disc degeneration as we age. And as we are all getting collectively older and heavier, and remain sedentary, the risk for such injuries grows.
The sciatic nerve is the center of sciatica pain, which connects to the spine at the lower back, and extends down the leg. This is why sciatic pain often radiates down the buttock, hamstring, calf, and foot. Sciatica pain relief is usually a matter of managing symptoms while identifying the cause of the pain. If it’s an impingement caused by a swollen or ruptured disc, then it will usually heal itself.
Exceptions exist, especially when sciatica is recurring – in such cases, certain interventions may be necessary to prevent future flare ups. Otherwise, it’s best to consult a doctor and opt for simple, non-invasive treatments.
Commonly Overlooked Remedies for Sciatica Pain Relief
Below are a few overlooked solutions that do not involve over-the-counter (OTC) medication or injections.
1. Avoid Prolonged Static Sitting and Standing
The current prescription for most cases of back pain is to seek no more than three days of bed rest, and to get moving again. While every case is different, most sufferers can find sciatica pain relief through a slow progression in exercise. This starts with simply standing and going for short walks, to more brisk walking and movement. Avoid any activities that might have led to the sciatic pain to begin with and avoid strenuous activities that call for heavy lifting or awkward posture.
2. Improve Sleep Hygiene and Quality
We spend roughly a third of our lives asleep. While sleep is critical for recovery, and especially important when dealing with any kind of back pain, poor sleeping habits can lead to severe back pain in the morning. Consider seeking different sleeping aids to help reduce posture issues while asleep, from supportive pillows to a better memory foam mattress. If you regularly wake up feeling back pain, consider keeping a heating pad nearby to use on your back before you get out of bed every morning.
3. Incorporate Massage Therapy
If you lack the experience or mind-body connection to begin massaging yourself, it’s well-advised to seek the help of a professional instead. An experienced massage therapist experienced can help identify exactly where you might be involuntarily tensing up, providing sciatica pain relief relief through careful deep tissue massages. Massage therapists can also be far more targeted than most self-massage devices.
4. Make Vice-Free Lifestyle Changes
Smoking tobacco and drinking can contribute to sciatica pain by further stressing the body, constricting important blood vessels in the back and legs, and causing dehydration. While it might be tough to give up on these habits, the sciatica pain relief and preventative value will be worth it.
5. Explore Strength Training
It might seem contradictory to recommend strength training when one of the causes of sciatica is heavy lifting. However, when leveraged properly, the strength gains made through PT training can not only help alleviate sciatica pain, but actively prevent it from recurring. The spine is a structure of bony pieces (vertebrae) connected by muscle, cartilage, and connective tissue.
Strengthening the muscle around the spine reduce the load placed upon it (since the muscles take on a greater burden instead). Strength training only accounts for a fraction of your day though. So while you do place greater stress on your spine and body, the strength you gain will help place less stress on your spine for the rest of the week.
6. Commit to Long, Warm Baths
The buoyancy and warmth provided by the water can soothe the muscles and reduce the stress on the spine, helping your muscles relax and lose a little tension. It can be a great way to try and relax a little before bed, especially on bad days.
Some might recommend more strenuous forms of water therapy like contrast bathing (submerging yourself in warm water, and then cold/ice water, and then back in warm water). However, the benefits of a long bath come from hydrostatic pressure. Thus, there isn’t much evidence to support ice baths for muscle recovery, let alone back pain.
7. Minimize Seed Oils, Increase Omega 3
The Standard American Diet generally serves too much saturated fat, but another worry is the excessive “health” unsaturated fat found in seeds, such as (but not limited to):
- Canola oil
- Sunflower oil
- Corn oil
- Soy oil
And the list goes on. These fats contain a lot of omega-6 fatty acids, which are pro-inflammatory. They are essential, but we consume way too much. Pre-industrial populations largely ate a 4:1 to 2:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, while today’s modernized populations typically have a ratio of 16:1.
Consuming these seed oils can skyrocket an individuals’s omega-6 fatty acids. Research shows that getting as close as possible to a 1:1 ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids can help combat inflammation and pain. Good sources of omega-6 include fatty fish.
EPA/DHA supplements can help if you can’t get a steady diet of fish like salmon and mackerel. If you’re cooking with oil, consider virgin coconut oil and virgin olive oil (only at low temperatures). Otherwise, avoid fried foods and processed foods, as they often rely on cheap seed oils like soybean oil.
8. Digest More Ginger and Turmeric
Ginger and turmeric have a long history of being touted as effective painkilling alternatives to OTC medication. While evidence suggests that their effects are more modest, there are several studies on humans showing that both have an effect on reducing pain, especially when taken daily. If you don’t want to cook with more ginger and turmeric, consider curcumin and ginger root powders.
Any one of these tips can provide short-term or long-term sciatica pain relief, but by combining them, you can greatly reduce your chances of recurring back pain and help speed along your own recovery.