Your sciatic nerves branch out from your lower back, run through each hip, and then down each leg. And like all the nerves in your body, your sciatic nerve is sensitive. If it is compressed, pinched, or otherwise irritated and angry, you'll know it!
Sciatic nerve pain can really ruin an otherwise good day. It can be difficult to get things done when it hurts to sit, stand, and sleep. Luckily, there are techniques you can do at home to relieve sciatic nerve pain. But before we share our tips, let's discuss the difference between sciatica and piriformis syndrome.
Is it sciatica or piriformis syndrome?
If you experience hip pain radiating down your leg to your foot, it could be either sciatica or a condition called piriformis syndrome.
Sciatica can have more than one cause. It is often the result of spinal dysfunction such as a herniated disc or spinal stenosis. Sciatica can also be caused by tension in the piriformis muscle, either on its own or in addition to spinal dysfunction.
Piriformis syndrome, on the other hand, occurs when the piriformis muscle compresses the sciatic nerve. According to Harvard Medical School, piriformis syndrome accounts for about 5% of all sciatica cases. But, that doesn't make it any less of a "pain in the buttocks"!
Learn how tight hip flexor muscles can lead to sciatica and piriformis syndrome:
We're going to go over some ways you can relieve sciatic nerve pain at home. (Yes, there are things you can do besides reaching for the ibuprofen.) These exercises and tips will work whether you have sciatica or piriformis syndrome.
Immediate relief for sciatica pain
When you experience sciatica pain, you want relief and you want it now! One of the best pain relief techniques is prolonged direct pressure for muscle release. This is a different technique than a "kneading" massage or moving around on a foam roller. Rubbing painful muscles can actually make the situation worse, a topic that is covered in-depth in the book Tight Hip, Twisted Core.
You'll want to apply direct pressure to the area that is painful, until the discomfort starts to subside. You can apply pressure with your hand or a trigger point massage tool. Remember that this is stationary pressure with no back-and-forth movement on your part, only downward pressure.
It's normal if the pain increases at first, but it should be a "hurts so good" feeling. Ease up a little if the pain becomes unbearable. It can then take 30 to 90 seconds for the pain to subside.
Stretching away your sciatic nerve pain
Gentle stretching exercises can be an important piece of your sciatica pain relief toolbox. Give these three stretches a try to keep sciatic nerve pain at bay.
Figure Four Stretch. You can show the back of your hip some love with the figure four stretch. For this maneuver, you'll need a comfortable, roomy place to lie down.
Hip Flexor Stretch. This hip flexor stretch called the "lunge" can be done anywhere. Try it while standing next to your desk, or beside your car the next time you stop for gas.
Sitting Pigeon Pose. The full pigeon pose is a yoga position that stretches your pelvic muscles. However, this pose can actually cause your pelvic to rotate. You should modify this position and do it in either a seated position or while lying on your back.
Other home remedies for sciatica
In addition to stretches, sciatica massage can help relieve any pain and discomfort. Unlike other forms of massage, you don't need a partner to help you because you're going to apply prolonged pressure, not kneading. You can perform self-massage for sciatica with either a foam roller or our Hip Flexor Release Ball.
You may also feel relief from using ice packs. Ice the area for the first 2 to 3 days that you experience pain. Then, you can switch over to heat or alternate heat with ice, whichever feels better.
Whatever you do, stay active. Babying your hips and legs, and resting too much will only make your sciatic nerve pain worse in the long run. Focus on stretches and gentle movement, and avoid sitting for long periods of time.
How to sit with sciatica
Between desk jobs and Netflix, many of us lead sedentary lives. How to sit comfortably with sciatica can seem next to impossible. It's also common to experience buttock pain while sitting, which can make your next work meeting intolerable.
The problem is that our bodies were not designed to sit for long periods of time. When we sit, our hip flexor muscles contract. Many people experience this as a cramping sensation or a tightness.
But finding sciatica pain relief while sitting starts with good posture and taking frequent breaks. We put together this video to demonstrate the do's and don'ts of sitting with sciatic nerve pain:
You'll see that good posture goes a long way. And if you can, try not to sit for too long. (Now is a great time to talk your boss into buying you a stand-up desk.)
How to sleep with piriformis syndrome or sciatica
Sciatic nerve pain often worsens when you lie down, and that can make for a poor night's sleep. The increased pain is caused by your front hip flexor and back hip flexor muscles tensing up and playing a game of tug-of-war. Unfortunately, lying down to cuddle or sleep increases that tension.
The right sleeping position can ease that nighttime pain. Our sleeping with sciatica video gives you the information you need for better rest:
Your mattress can also play a role in sciatic nerve pain. In general, a firmer mattress is better at keeping your body aligned. So if your mattress is old and saggy, this is a good reason to go shopping. If a new mattress isn't in your budget, you can slide a piece of plywood under your mattress. (If your bed has a box spring, the plywood should go between the mattress and box spring.) This is a quick and easy way to firm up a softer mattress.
And this sounds crazy, but some people with sciatic pain actually get their best night's sleep on the floor. Your sleeping partner may not be up to it, but you can try this out by using a yoga mat or a camping mattress pad.
The role of a twisted pelvis in preventing sciatica
Tight hip flexor muscles can cause a twisted pelvis or a rotated pelvis. Keeping these muscles relaxed is the key to preventing sciatica, and there's a three-step process to accomplish just that. First, you need to apply direct pressure to your front hip flexor muscles, then do the same to your back hip flexor muscles. Lastly, you'll then realign your pelvis.
But, it's difficult, if not impossible, to isolate your front hip flexor muscles and apply pressure. And it's really hard if you have a ticklish stomach. That's where the Hip Hook comes in. Designed by a licensed physical therapist, this tool allows you to target your front hip flexor muscles and apply direct pressure. You can use the Hip Hook either lying down or standing. We know this all probably sounds a little strange, so we put together a video of how to use the Hip Hook, where you can see it in action.
While the Hip Hook is the best option for your front hip flexors, a four-inch bouncy ball like the Hip Flexor Release Ball works, too. This size ball is the best choice for most people. Anything smaller will get absorbed into the abdomen. And anything larger won't be able to pinpoint the front hip flexor muscles. If you use a ball for your front muscles, you'll follow the same steps as for the Hip Hook. Whether you use the Hip Hook or the Hip Flexor Release Ball for your front hip flexors, you'll need to use the ball for your back hip flexors.
We put together a video showing you the three-step process:
It's super important to not take shortcuts here. Don't make the mistake of loosening just the front hip muscles or just the back hip muscles/glute. Remember that these muscles like to play tug of war with each other. If both muscles aren't released properly, any relief you have will likely be short-lived. You'll be back to uneven hips, and sciatic nerve pain.
What are the common triggers of sciatic nerve pain?
Sciatic nerve pain can flare up out of nowhere. But often, something does irritate the sciatic nerve. Once you identify your body's triggers, you can take steps to prevent any issues.
Remember that what causes sciatica to flare up comes down to pelvic alignment and tight hip flexor muscles. A long period of sitting—a desk job, a concert, or a plane ride—is often the culprit. And many pregnant women will experience low back pain and sciatica no matter what position they're in.
Treatment for sciatic nerve pain
Using the Hip Hook on a regular basis and releasing the piriformis muscle can often prevent sciatic nerve pain from occurring. But if you do have pain, many people find relief at home with stretches, proper sleeping positions, and ice/heat. However, if the pain doesn't go away or seems to worsen, you should see your healthcare provider for further diagnosis and treatment.
After a physical exam and possibly some diagnostic tests, your doctor may recommend physical therapy. You may also be told you can take over-the-counter or prescription pain medications.
Corticosteroid injections can provide longer periods of pain relief. These injections do carry side effects, so you may be limited as to how many injections you can have.
For some people, the sciatic nerve is compressed by a herniated disc or a bone spur. If other treatments haven't worked in these cases, surgery may be the best recourse.
How long does sciatica last?
For many people, sciatica is an acute condition that lasts only a few days or a couple of weeks. They can successfully treat their nerve pain at home and are back to their old selves in no time.
Sciatica during pregnancy is another story. While you are pregnant, your body is constantly changing. Your entire pelvic area adapts for your growing baby and prepares for labor. You may experience low back pain and sciatica at different times throughout your pregnancy, or it may be a constant companion for the whole nine months.
The best way to ease sciatic nerve pain during pregnancy is to have proper alignment before you become pregnant. If you're thinking about having a baby, performing the three steps to align your pelvis (see above) is a must. You'll be so glad you entered your first trimester with the right alignment. Our lives can be busy, but taking the time to prepare your body is so important.
If you're already pregnant and in some serious pain, you can still release your back hip flexor muscles with the Hip Flexor Release Ball and work on hip alignment. These steps should give you some pain relief. You can also see a physical therapist who works with pregnant clients, who may be able to safely help you release your front hip flexor muscles.
Commonly Asked Questions About Sciatica Pain Relief
How long does sciatica last?
Many people will experience acute episodes of sciatica, for a handful of others sciatica is chronic. You may be able to treat your sciatic pain at home by releasing your piriformis muscle and hip flexors with muscle release tools.
What exercises can I do for sciatica?
Figure four stretch is the best exercise for sciatica. Focus on releasing the piriformis and iliopsoas muscles. If it's difficult for you to get on the floor, try the hip flexor lunge stretch. This is also a great stretch you can do during a road trip break. (But unfortunately, most airplane bathrooms aren't big enough!)
Why is my sciatica pain worse at night?
Anytime that you lay down, your front and back hip flexor muscles play tug-of-war. This tension puts pressure on your sciatic nerve, which runs alongside and underneath these muscles.
What causes sciatica buttock pain?
Sciatic nerve pain can be the result of spinal dysfunction and/or the piriformis muscle compressing the sciatic nerve (piriformis syndrome). If you experience buttock pain that radiates down your leg, you may have piriformis syndrome.