Life is going along smoothly when you feel a sudden pain in your lower back that may seem like you've been hit with a cattle prod. It can be intense, eye-watering, and messes with enjoying the things you love. After talking to your doctor, you learn this strange pain has a name. Not only do you learn that it's called sciatica, but you also find out you're literally getting on your own nerves. Do you have to live like this, though?
What is Sciatica?
Before we get into dealing with sciatica, let's discuss what it actually is. While it's often described as back pain, because that's where it's located, what you're actually feeling is nerve pain. The sciatic nerve becomes inflamed, and you begin to feel the pain. While it may not seem like it matters whether it's back pain or nerve pain, it does matter when it comes to the treatment type.
Is it Sciatica or Piriformis Syndrome?
Sciatica pain and piriformis syndrome are often mistaken for each other. That's because piriformis syndrome is a type of sciatic pain. The difference is that sciatica can be caused by several factors, such as a herniated disc or spinal stenosis. It can also be due to the piriformis muscle, but isn't exclusive to that.
According to The Harvard Medical School, "Piriformis syndrome is a painful condition that develops due to irritation or compression of the sciatic nerve near the piriformis muscle. The piriformis muscle connects the lowermost vertebrae with the upper part of the leg after traveling the "sciatic notch," the opening in the pelvic bone that allows the sciatic nerve to travel into the leg. Here, the muscle and nerve are adjacent, and this proximity is why trouble can develop."
Only a medical doctor can tell you if your sciatica pain is due to piriformis syndrome. If it is piriformis, the treatments will still remain the same for the most part.
What Are The Symptoms of Sciatica?
Symptoms of sciatica aren't always the same for everyone. Nearly everyone who experiences sciatica describes radiating pain in the lower back that may travel into the glute and down the leg towards the feet. Many also describe numbness, tingling, or weakness in their leg. How this pain makes itself known isn't always the same, however.
For some people, it's dull and throbbing. Others describe it more like a jolt, and some describe it as a burning sensation. Whatever it feels like, nearly everyone agrees it's something they want to go away so they can go back to doing the things they love.
What Causes Sciatica?
While it may feel like a curse that comes out of nowhere, it's not karma. In fact, it could be something as simple as the piriformis, psoas, and the iliopsoas muscles becoming inflamed or strained. Slipped discs are another potential cause.
Immediate Relief for Sciatica Pain
Many people believe sciatic pain will never go away. We've got a different angle. We believe that sciatic pain can be dealt with. Bed rest is one way to relieve sciatica pain, although that's not always an option. Other methods include stretching, exercising, and medical treatment. We'll discuss more of this later in the article.
Stretching Away Your Sciatica Nerve Pain
Stretching is one of the best ways to keep your body in alignment, which helps relax your muscles, and keep them from pressing on your sciatic nerve. But there are so many stretches out there. Which should you do?
Three simple but effective stretches you can try include sitting pigeon pose, doing a figure four, and the hip flexor stretch.
Other Home Remedies for Sciatica
Massages aren't just good for relieving stress. For many individuals, it can relieve sciatica pain, and you don't even have to spend a ton of money to do it. Sciatica massages can be done at home, with just a ball or massage tool. It helps relax the muscles around the sciatic nerve, and doesn't take long to do.
How to Sit Comfortably With Sciatica
Living with sciatica pain is bad enough, but when you try to sit for hours, and must deal with that shooting pain, it can feel unbearable. There's hope, however. A lot of the pain you're feeling is due to tight hip flexors, and poor pelvic rotation.
Try standing up and walking around. Adding in some of those stretches we discussed can also go a long ways towards helping alleviate your pain. If this isn't an option, like during a big test, try sitting with a more open hip angle. You can do this by raising your chair height, use a cushion, tuck your feet under the chair, or choose a kneeling chair.
Just like sitting, tight hip flexors could be the cause of a lot of your pain. This can be bad enough when you're just trying to crash, but it's even worse when you're trying to cuddle. So what can you do?
Stretching your hip flexors out before sleep can help. Also, try using a body pillow or your partner to elevate one leg. Finally, make sure you address the root cause of the pain so you don't have to live with it night after night.
The Role of a Twisted Pelvis in Preventing Sciatica
We've mentioned a twisted pelvis quite a bit so far. This also goes hand in hand with a rotated pelvis and uneven hips. When the hips aren't in alignment, it affects everything from the way you walk to the way you sit. This can cause sciatica pain. Keeping your hips in alignment can help prevent this.
What Are The Common Triggers of Sciatica Nerve Pain?
There are several things that can trigger or aggravate your sciatica nerve pain. Things like flexing your lumbar spine, twisting, bending, or coughing can make your sciatic nerve feel like it's screaming. While all the things on this list are hard to avoid, there are proper ways to bend, twist, and flex that will make your life with sciatica pain much easier. Things like bending with your knees instead of leaning over with your back when you lift will save your back.
Treatment for Sciatica Nerve Pain
When just sitting hurts, it may feel like there's no end in sight for the pain. There are several types of treatment options available to you, however, and many don't even require you to sit in a doctor's office for several hours.
To begin, focus on using direct prolonged pressure on the piriformis muscle with a Hip Flexor Release Ball. This will help release this muscle and relieve pressure on the sciatic nerve. For longterm relief, you’ll also want to release your psoas and iliacus muscles in the front (your primary hip flexors) which may be the cause of the piriformis getting so darn tight in the first place! We recommend the Hip Hook: it’s the only tool to directly access both the psoas and iliacus to fully release the hip flexors and realign the pelvis.
The National Center for Biotechnology Information reports the following methods can help alleviate the pain.
You can try using these techniques at home.
- Direct pressure to tight muscles
- Spinal manipulation
- Deep tissue massage
- Rotate hot and cold packs
- Avoid sitting or standing for long periods of time
- Practice good posture.
- Build up your core strength
- Walk, swim, or join an aqua therapy class
- Use proper lifting techniques
In addition to these techniques, your doctor may prescribe:
- A short course of oral NSAIDs
- Opioid and nonopioid analgesics
- Muscle relaxants
- Anticonvulsants for neurogenic pain
- Oral corticosteroids
- Localized corticosteroid injections
- Physical therapy consultation
- Surgical evaluation and correction of any structural abnormalities such as disc herniation, epidural hematoma, epidural abscess, or tumor
How Long Does Sciatica Last?
This is the question that everyone wants to be answered. Dealing with pain is bad enough, but sciatica pain can really affect your life in a negative way. If you fear that things will never get back to normal there is hope.
The problem with answering this question is that it can be different for everyone. According to MedlinePlus, sciatica pain can go away on its own, or it might require medical treatment to deal with. The good news is that it is treatable, even if it takes a little time to fully heal. Avoiding triggering it, and seeking out treatment sooner rather than later, will go a long way towards shortening how long your sciatica pain lasts.
Sciatica During Pregnancy
Pregnancy may give you a beautiful glow as you wait for your little one to be born, but it can also bring along things like heartburn, sleepless nights, and sciatica pain. Releasing your piriformis muscle with a massage ball can be a life-changer for sciatica during pregnancy. Talk to your doctor to learn which techniques will work best for you.
Frequently Asked Questions about Living with Sciatica
How Long Does Sciatica Last?
There's no timeline for how long sciatica pain lasts. It is treatable, so it's not something you have to live with, however. Give the home treatments a shot, and if they don't work, seek out a doctor for medical treatment.
How Can I Sleep With Sciatica?
Sleeping with sciatica can be easier said than done, but there are some things you can do. Stretch before bed: your glutes and hip flexors. If you lay on your side, use pillows to keep one leg elevated with your knee aligned with your ankle.
How Can I Sit Comfortably With Sciatica?
No feet on the coffee table! Positioning is really important when sitting with sciatica. Keep your hips higher than your knees, don’t stretch your legs in front of you (that stretches your nerves!) And remember to take those breaks you promised yourself.