Beginning from the nerve roots at the lumbar extending through the buttock and leg area, the sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the human body. A common condition that causes pain in the buttock, behind the thigh, or lower back is called sciatica. Sciatica nerve pain is often perceived as one of the worst types of pain, but sciatica has the worst reputation out of all nerve disorders.
What Causes Sciatic Nerve Pain?
The bones that make up the vertebrae are cushioned by flat, round, flexible pieces of connective tissue called discs. Discs can wear down from years of use or a sudden injury, and the soft center will begin to push from the hard outer ring. This causes pressure on the sciatic nerve which results in inflammation and extreme discomfort.
Sciatica can also be caused by bone spurs and spinal stenosis putting pressure on the sciatic nerve. This can become extremely painful and can cause pain throughout the entire nerve.
Sciatica can be acute, chronic, and anywhere in between, meaning it can flare up right after a surgery or appear gradually over time. This condition typically affects people between the ages of 30-50. Being overweight, pregnant, or performing a job with heavy lifting or prolonged sitting are major risk factors for sciatic nerve issues.
Symptoms of Sciatica
The most common symptoms of sciatica include:
- Lower back and/or hip pain
- Burning, tingling, and numbness in the legs, especially when sitting
- Weakness or difficulty moving the legs, feet, and toes
- Shooting pain on the side of the rear
- Pain and difficulty standing up
Anyone with debilitating pain, weakness, numbness, or loss of bladder or bowel function should contact a doctor immediately.
How to Treat Sciatic Nerve Pain
Treating sciatica can come with some trial-and-error as the severity of it has a wide range and there are many options for relief and treatment. Nerve pain can get better on its own or could require surgery. Anyone suffering from sciatic nerve pain should consider the following treatment options:
- Over-the-counter pain and anti-inflammatory medications. More severe cases require prescription pain medications, steroids, or muscle relaxers
- Alternating two days of cold packs and two days of heat packs on the lower back
- Activity followed by a lot of rest. Staying in motion can help reduce inflammation. Walking and light stretching can be very soothing
- Depending on the underlying cause, pain that lasts longer than three months may require surgery
- Physical therapy can be used as a treatment before or after surgery
- Spinal and muscle manipulation from chiropractic and massage therapy have many benefits for pain relief
- Nerve blocks and steroid injections cause immediate relief but is not a long-term option for treatment
Sciatic Nerve Exercises
Leg, lower back, and glute stretches that externally rotate the hip provide relief from the pressure on the sciatic nerve. Below are five widely used stretches for sciatica relief:
1. Reclining Pigeon Pose
Lay on your back and bring your right leg up to a right angle. Squeeze both hands behind your thigh, locking your fingers. Lift your left leg and place your right ankle on top of the knee. Hold the position for 30 seconds and switch legs.
2. Sitting Pigeon Pose
Sit on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you. With a bend in your right leg, put your right ankle on top of the left knee. Lean forward, allowing your upper body to stretch towards your thigh. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat with the opposite side.
3. Forward Pigeon Pose
While kneeling on all fours, move your right leg forward and push it towards the ground in front of your body. Your right foot will be in front of your right knee and your right knee will stay slightly to the right. The left leg and toes will stretch back horizontal to the body, and the tops of each foot will be touching the ground.
Shift your body weight back and forth from your arms to your legs. Hold for a few seconds and repeat on the other side.
4. Knee to Opposite Shoulder
Extend your legs with your feet flexed upward while laying on your back. Bend your right knee and squeeze your hands together around the raised knee. Gently pull your right leg across your body toward your left shoulder and hold for 30 seconds. Push the knee back into starting position and switch sides.
5. Standing Hamstring Stretch
Elevate your foot at hip level on a sturdy surface. Flex your foot so your toes are facing upward. Slightly bend your body forward. When you feel a good stretch, release the hip and gradually let your raised leg move downward. Hold for 30 seconds and switch legs.
Managing Your Sciatica Nerve Pain
If you need help managing your sciatica nerve pain, the first step is getting the right medical team of professionals on your side. Depending on your state, you may be qualified for Direct Access.
That’s where we come in. We understand sciatica pain may be difficult to handle, but bed rest is not recommended as a treatment method and could make the condition worse. We’ll identify the causes of your sciatica through a complimentary free screening before arranging the right kind of physical therapy for you.
Click here to make an appointment at Premier Physical Therapy or request a free screening with one of our physical therapists by filling out the form below. Take a look at our various physical therapy locations, discover the right treatment tailored for you and achieve relief from sciatica nerve pain today.