Sciatica refers to a pain that radiates from your back, through your buttocks and down your leg. It is due to pressure on the largest nerve in your body, your sciatic nerve. It can result from a herniated disk in your spinal column (disks are pads of cartilage that separate the vertebrae, or bones, of your spine) or from a muscle called the piriformis that starts at the lower end of your spinal column and is connected to your thigh bone. It can also be caused by a slipped disk or an injury.
More than half the population of the US suffers from sciatica at one time or another throughout their lives, and many people get it several times. In mild cases it goes away after a few weeks; in some cases, however, particularly those associated with disk problems, it can linger for many months.
The first thing you should do is try to find out what is causing the problem: an injured disk or pressure from the piriformis muscle. And fortunately there is a test that can tell you which of these is likely to be your problem.
In this article I’ll outline ten things that I found particularly helpful in dealing with sciatica. The first one is related to the test I mentioned above.
1. For the test, begin by lying on your back and lifting your affected leg straight up. Does it cause pain? Now, pull your leg into your chest with the knee bent. Again, note if there is pain. If the piriformis muscle is at fault, pain will occur in both cases – when the leg is straight and when it is bent. If it is a disk problem, on the other hand, the pain will only occur when the leg is straight. (If you’re sure you have a disk problem, you should see your doctor as soon as possible.)
2. The rest of the suggestions are best for people with a squeezed piriformis muscle, but they are also helpful for disk problems. First of all, some rest is usually needed, but limit it to a day or so. During this time apply cold packs to the affected area; they will help reduce the inflammation. Later you can alternate with hot packs.
3. Stretching exercises are particularly good. I will describe five that are very effective.
a) Lie on your back. Pull your legs into your chest one at a time and hold for 30 seconds. Release and relax for a few seconds. Do this about 10 times for each leg.
b) Remaining on your back, pull your leg up towards your chest, but this time also pull it across your body. Again hold it for 30 seconds. Also, do it for each leg about 10 times.
c) Again, on your back, lift your leg straight up, pull on it with your hands locked behind it. Hold it for 30 seconds. Do 10 for each side.
d) Now, raise your knees up, move them to one side and hold them for 30 seconds, then do the same on the other side. Again, do 10 on each side
e) Finally, bend your unaffected leg so your knee is in the air. Pass your affected leg across and behind it and lock it in position, then reach through and grab your unaffected knee with your hands and pull it. Hold it for 30 seconds. Again, so this several times.
4. Aerobic Exercises are also particularly good. I found that bicycling was one of the best exercises of this type because it doesn’t stress the affected area. Try to go at least 20 minutes on a stationary bike if you have access to one. (I love the treadmill, but I found that it aggravated my injury if I did it for long.)
5. Many medications or drug such as aspirin, ibuprofen and Tylenol are helpful in alleviating the pain, but I’ll leave them to you and your doctor. Several were helpful to me, but nothing seemed to completely relieve the pain.
6. Another things that was very helpful to me was TENS (Transcutaneous electrical Nerve Stimulation) and EMS (Electrical Muscle Stimulation). They work by sending electrical pulses through the skin to stimulate the nerves. They are administered by chiropractors and physical therapist. Although they help relieve the pain they do nothing to cure the condition.
7. Another thing I found very helpful when the affected area was aching a lot was to stretch out on my back on a bed for about a half an hour and completely relax. I found it to be particularly helpful.
8. Massage by a professional masseur can also be helpful. Massage relaxes your muscles and can release some of the pressure from the piriformis muscle.
9. One of the most serious problems for me was an inability to sleep at night because of the persistent pain. I found that applying a heating pad to the affected area was very helpful.
10. Finally, if you’re sure the problem is due to one or more of your disks, or if it continues for several weeks, make sure you see a doctor. Chiropractors and physical therapists.