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8 Tips for Sciatica Pain Relief

Back pain and discomfort come in many forms, but one of the most common is called sciatica.

Sciatica isn’t a condition. Rather, it’s the term for pain in the sciatic nerve—a nerve running down both sides of the lower spine, through the pelvis, down the back of each leg, and into the feet. Sciatica happens when pressure irritates the nerve, causing pain in the buttock, thigh, or down the leg. Some describe the pain as mild or achy, while others experience a burning sensation and sharper pain. Numbness, tingling, and weakness in the leg are also indicators of sciatica.

Researchers estimate that as many as 40% of people will experience sciatica or irritation of the sciatic nerve. The likelihood of sciatica increases with age. People who sit for long periods or strain their back by lifting or twisting may experience sciatica. Other conditions may factor into sciatica, including spondylolisthesis, lumbar spinal stenosis, and degenerative disc disease. Women may experience sciatica during pregnancy, as well.

So, what can you do about this common cause of back discomfort? Here are 8 tips for finding sciatica relief.

1. Consult a PT Professional For Sciatica Relief

Sciatica can come as a brief flare up, typically treatable with rest, ice, and OTC anti-inflammatories like Ibuprofen. For many, however, sciatica is a prolonged issue and may need guidance to help find relief. It’s important to consult with a professional to ensure the pain you’re experiencing is truly from sciatica, so they can guide you to the best treatment approach.

At The Orthopaedic Hospital of Wisconsin, our physical therapy team is ready to help you find relief from sciatic pain. In many cases, a few lifestyle adjustments and targeted stretches are enough to alleviate the nerve pain and bring you relief. Contact our physical therapy team today to schedule a consultation. Sciatica isn’t something you need to ignore or power through.

2. Focus on Fitness

As with many injuries and irritations, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. There are a few preventative steps you can take to ensure you don’t face another flare-up of sciatica again. One of the best lifestyle adjustments is to focus on getting and staying fit.

Regular exercise, combined with keeping your weight in check, will help you fight the discomfort of sciatica. Walking for 15-30 minutes per day will offer a significant difference in your overall health, including your back, hips, and legs. A Finnish study showed that participants who walked or biked to work reduced their incidence of hospitalization for sciatica by 33%.

3. Lift with Your Legs

Lifting and straining your back may exacerbate sciatica. Pay attention to the way you lift and use proper form, putting the bulk of the effort in your legs. Bend with your knees and hips, rather than at your waist.

If lifting is a regular part of your job, consider wearing a lifting belt or lumbar support to protect your back. Follow all your workplace guidelines and best practices. Don’t risk your back by lifting something alone when you could enlist the help of others.

4. Choose Practical Footwear

If you’re choosing fashion over comfort, you may want to rethink your choices, especially if you’re experiencing sciatica. While wearing practical, comfortable footwear is a good idea in general, some doctors suggest the right shoes are especially important if you’re experiencing back pain.

Look for shoes that support your foot and ankle, offering plenty of cushion and comfort. If your job has you on your feet all day, or you plan to take a lunchtime walk, comfortable shoes are a sound plan.

5. Stand Up at Work

Many people who suffer from sciatica report long bouts of sitting increases their pain and discomfort. Even if you use an ergonomic office chair, sitting may still “pinch” (or compress) the sciatic nerve, causing your pain to get worse.

Alternating with a standing desk or incorporating short standing breaks and walk breaks throughout your day can bring you relief. With sciatica, you should listen to your body—if standing relieves your discomfort, find opportunities to stand up!

6. Check Out Your Mattress

Similar to your office chair, your mattress may also contribute to your sciatica. If your bed is older, worn down, too soft, or too firm for your preference, you may want to consider an update.

Although there haven’t been many medical studies on the correlation between mattresses and back pain, in one survey of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 95% said they believed that mattresses did play a part in the management of back pain. A comfortable bed also promotes good sleep, which aids in your overall health and well-being.

7. Try Gentle Stretching

Follow the recommendations of your licensed physical therapist for specific and custom stretches to offer sciatica relief. It’s essential to work with a professional who understands your health concerns and limitations.

Sciatica sufferers have reported relief from gentle stretches of the lower back. It’s important not to force the stretch, bounce, twist, or jerk as you focus on alleviating the tension in your lower back and hips.

8. Explore Yoga

Once you’ve worked with a physical therapist on your spinal health, a yoga practice may help you continue forward pain-free. Many people find supportive exercise like yoga helps them move forward and resolve their discomfort.

Any exercise regimen should follow the advice of your physical therapist and medical practitioner. They will help you determine when you are ready to start exercise, so follow their advice. Even during a flare-up of sciatica, you can continue to incorporate movement into your schedule; it may even help you find relief.

The good news is sciatica often goes away after a few weeks. Most sufferers of sciatica report symptoms resolve within 6 to 12 weeks. It’s important not to push through the pain and to work with a specialist on the best course of action. In many cases, the right physical therapy will address your sciatica without needing advanced procedures such as surgery or other medical intervention.

If you are suffering from sciatica, don’t wait. Contact the Orthopaedic Hospital of Wisconsin, and let us help you navigate the path to relief!

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