By Brent Wells, D.C.
If you struggle with sciatic nerve pain, you know that it can dramatically affect your productivity and comfort levels as you go about your day. The sciatic nerves run all the way from the lower spine, through each hip, and down the back of the legs. When there’s too much pressure put on a sciatic nerve, it can cause pain to radiate through the entire leg. Many people take painkillers for sciatic nerve pain, but these can have negative side effects in the long term. In this article, we will discuss the best natural ways to relieve sciatic nerve pain, as well as the key symptoms and causes of sciatica.
What Is Sciatica?
Basically, sciatica is the irritation of the sciatic nerve. The pain is rooted in the lower back and hips, where there are several bones and organs that can press on the sciatic nerve. Most people only experience pain in one leg, although many people do feel it in both legs. The pain sensation differs from person to person – some people experience it as a persistent dull ache, while others feel it as a sharper, more intense sensation. For some, it is a shocking sensation, and others a numb feeling. Sciatic nerve pain can even feel like a persistent burning sensation. In the worst cases, you might experience difficulty walking or a feeling of weakness in your legs.
Key Causes of Sciatica
There are many things that can cause sciatica. This condition is complex and isn’t always caused by one thing – it’s often a combination of different circumstances. If you’ve been experiencing sciatica symptoms, it’s important to go to your doctor and get diagnosed. He or she can help you identify the causes of the condition so that you can treat it.
- One of the most common causes of sciatica is spinal stenosis. This is when the spinal canal narrows in the lower back, putting pressure on the sciatic nerve. The space in between the vertebrae starts to degenerate, so they start to pinch on the nerves around them. This tends to happen over time as our bodies age. This condition is often linked to arthritis, but can happen on its own as well.
- Another common cause of sciatica is some sort of degeneration or bone spur in the lower back. You have discs between the vertebrae in your back, and without them, your vertebrae can pinch or press on your sciatic nerve. It’s also not uncommon to develop a bone spur in this area, which can also add pressure to the sciatic nerve in places where your body isn’t able to handle it.
- It’s also not uncommon to develop sciatic nerve pain as a result of a muscle imbalance. Many people have tight muscles in their hips and buttocks, and it’s particularly common to have one side that’s more developed than the other. This can result in an unnatural amount of pressure on your sciatic nerve from an odd angle.
- During pregnancy, your body changes dramatically in just a few months, and there’s lots of pressure put on your hips and your lower body specifically. This extra weight, combined with the fact that your internal organs have to shift to make room for the baby, often results in temporary sciatic nerve pain.
Other Contributing Causes of Sciatic Nerve Pain
There are also many factors that are unlikely to cause sciatic nerve pain by themselves, but can greatly exacerbate it when combined with one of the conditions described above. These include:
- Living a sedentary lifestyle. When you spend most of your day sitting or lying down, you are actually putting an unnatural amount of pressure on your lower back, hips, and legs. Since our bodies weren’t designed to be sedentary, this can result in sciatic nerve pain.
- Being overweight can also contribute to sciatic nerve pain. Carrying around extra pounds puts stress on the body, and can exacerbate the pressure on the sciatic nerve.
- Frequently wearing high heels or other unsupportive shoes can also result in sciatic nerve pain. Heels can compress the nerves and muscles in an unnatural way, so when you wear them for long periods of time, you might find that the sensation of sciatica worsens.
- A low-quality mattress can also negatively affect your sciatic nerve pain. It’s important that your body has the support it needs while you are sleeping, but if your mattress is too soft or puts pressure on your body in uncomfortable places, you will probably find that your sciatic pain gets worse when you wake up.
Best Natural Treatments For Sciatic Nerve Pain
Many doctors will prescribe painkillers or muscle relaxants for relief of sciatic nerve pain. However, if you prefer natural pain relief, there are a variety of options available. Often it’s a matter of improving your natural alignment so that there’s less physical pressure on the sciatic nerve. Of course, talk to your doctor and consider your personal circumstances to determine the right treatment for your needs.
Chiropractic adjustments can be incredibly helpful for people with sciatica. There’s a good chance that your sciatic nerve is hurting because your lumbar spine is misaligned, and a chiropractor will use adjustments as well as stretching and physical manipulation to get your spine into a healthier position and release the tension built up in this area. Chiropractors take a holistic approach to treating any chronic pain, so they can also help you make small lifestyle changes that could have a big positive effect on the way you feel.
Yoga is another natural practice that is excellent for relieving chronic pain of any kind, including sciatica. Yoga helps release tension that has built up in the back and legs, encouraging you to breathe deeply and let your muscles relax. It also can improve your flexibility and mobility, preventing stiffness that could make your sciatica worse. There are many different types of yoga classes to choose from, so try different teachers to find the approach you enjoy the most. You can also do yoga at home, which is great for busy professionals.
The physical manipulation of massage is another effective and natural way to manage nerve pain. When you’re struggling with sciatica, it’s likely that you have tense nerves not only in your hips and legs, but all over your body. You’re likely moving your body in unnatural ways to compensate for the pain, which can create tight muscles. A massage will help you relax and loosen up, so they won’t put as much pressure on your nerves. A massage can also stimulate your blood flow, which can help your body heal faster and reduce inflammation. Additionally, massages can trigger a release of endorphins in your brain. These are natural feel-good chemicals that relieve pain to a certain degree. There are many different types of massage that are effective for sciatic nerve pain, so you can choose the one that is most comfortable for you. Many people find deep tissue massage to be particularly helpful for this condition.
Another common treatment that many people enjoy for their sciatic nerve pain is acupuncture. Regular sessions can help you manage pain and tension. Acupuncture is done using very small needles, which are inserted into your skin at strategic pressure points, causing a release of energy. Acupuncture is derived from Chinese medicine, and although scientists aren’t exactly sure why it’s so effective, it’s thought that it triggers a positive response from the nervous system, releasing endorphins and relaxing the surrounding muscles. Many people find acupuncture sessions very relaxing. Since the needles are so small, they cause very little sensation when applied to the skin.
This is a very simple treatment that you can do at home, but it can make a big difference in the severity of the sensations you are experiencing as part of your sciatic nerve pain. Alternating between heat and ice therapy stimulates your body’s healing processes, so it’s a great way to manage pain. On days when your sciatica is particularly bad, alternate between heat and ice for 15 minutes at a time, making sure to take at least an hour in between sessions. The heat will help loosen tight muscles, while the ice will reduce painful inflammation. Make sure not to overdo it and to always use a towel or thin blanket as a barrier to protect your skin.
If you are struggling with sciatic nerve pain, adding one of these natural treatments to your routine can help you manage the pain effectively. Although drugs can be effective for pain relief, it’s important to also have natural pain relief strategies that you can use on a long term basis. When your sciatic nerve pain is under control, you will be able to enjoy increased productivity levels and better mobility throughout your day. Talk to your doctor to get recommendations for chiropractors, massage practices, and acupuncturists in your area.
Dr. Brent Wells is a graduate of the University of Nevada where he earned his bachelor’s of science degree before moving on to complete his doctorate from Western States Chiropractic College. He and his wife founded Better Health Chiropractor Wasilla in Alaska. He became passionate about being a chiropractor after his own experiences with medical doctors. Wells’ goal is to treat his patients with care and compassion while providing them with a better quality of life through his professional treatment. A member of the American Chiropractic Association and the American Academy of Spine Physicians, Wells continues his education to remain active and updated in all studies related to neurology, physical rehab, biomechanics, spine conditions, brain injury trauma, and more.
Dr. Sinatra’s note: Thanks for the good advice, Dr. Wells! I also recommend grounding to reduce sympathetic activation of the nervous system and to help alleviate pain. Learn more about grounding, or “Earthing,” here.
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- Katonis, P et al. Pregnancy-related low back pain. Hippokratia 15,3 (2011): 205-10.
- Santilli V, et.al. Chiropractic manipulation in the treatment of acute back pain and sciatica with disc protrusion: a randomized double-blind clinical trial of active and simulated spinal manipulations. Spine J. 2006 Mar-Apr;6(2):131-7. Epub 2006 Feb 3.
© 2019 Brent Wells D.C. and Stephen Sinatra, M.D. All rights reserved.