What is Sciatica and How Can I Treat It?
The Mayo Clinic defines sciatica as, “pain that radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve, which branches from your lower back through your hips and buttocks and down each leg. Typically, sciatica affects only one side of your body. (It) most commonly occurs when a herniated disk, bone spur on the spine or narrowing of the spine (spinal stenosis) compresses part of the nerve. This causes inflammation, pain and often some numbness in the affected leg.”
Since it can be extremely painful and incapacitating for many sufferers, some therapists and yoga instructors have compiled a series of beneficial exercises designed to help minimize the pain. Certified strength and conditioning specialist Dr. Mark Kovacs explains that he believes the best way to alleviate the pain from sciatica is to perform “any stretch that can externally rotate the hip to provide some relief.”
The top six exercises recommended by professionals include:
- reclining pigeon pose
- sitting pigeon pose
- forward pigeon pose (also referred to as the standard pigeon pose here)
- knee to opposite shoulder
- sitting spinal stretch
- standing hamstring stretch
Additional ways people can help relieve their sciatica pain is through:
*manipulation of trigger points: such as done by this leg brace (while some claim the brace is very effective, it is not guaranteed to work for all pain so use your discretion)
*pelvis balancing: Getting our pelvis in alignment can bring immense relief for sciatica sufferers especially, but others as well. The Elephant Journal explains that due to our digital lifestyles, most of us “spend a lot of time crouched in front of our various glow boxes, our low backs and hamstrings are weak and tight, unevenly pulling on the bones of the spine and pelvis. Therefore, most people have an irregularly rotated pelvis and possible clicking in their hips, low back, or knees because the joints are pulled out of alignment by imbalanced muscles.This can ultimately result in chronic pain, other areas of the body overcompensating and creating more issues, organ inflammation and muscle fatigue.”Yoga teachers and other therapists often address this with poses and additional stretching or exercises in their classes.
*acupuncture: Results from a Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicinejournal showed that out of a total of 30 sciatica sufferers participating, 10 saw symptom improvement and 17 were completely relieved with warming acupuncture treatment. Of the miraculous treatment, during which the needles are heated, Jingduan Yang, MD, of Thomas Jefferson University explains, “You can get relief as soon as the first session, though it takes about 12 sessions to see improvement.”
*massage: This likely won’t be the type of massage where you might fall asleep because you’re so relaxed. This kind of massage involves trigger-point therapy intended to apply pressure to inflamed or irritated areas of the piriformis muscle, lower back and glutes. According to Jeff Smoot from American Massage Therapy Association, patients should see results within four visits spaced 7 to 10 days apart or seek a different form of therapy.
*chiropractic care: Researcher Gordon McMorland, DC, from the National Spine Care Center in Calgary Alberta, explained of a 2010 study in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeuticsthat, “Spinal manipulation may create a response in the nervous system that relieves pain and restores normal mobility to the injured area. It also reduces inflammation, creating an environment that promotes the body’s natural healing mechanisms.” According to the study, 60 percent of sciatica sufferers who didn’t get sufficient relief from therapies and then tried chiropractic care ended up with the same degree of pain relief as those who had surgery.
*epidural steroid injections: If other treatments aren’t helpful after a month, x-ray guided steroid injections may work. Says Raj Rao, MD, AAOS spokesman, “The hope is to reduce inflammation within that nerve branch. Because of concerns about side effects, such as loss of bone density, the epidural shots are limited to three a year.”
kinesiology taping: One interesting lesser known treatment is the kinesio-taping. As explained in this video, the taping should be completed on the patient 20 to 30 minute prior to physical activity. This method is said help provide pain relief and lessen inflammation and/or spasms associated with sciatica. The tape is believed to provide support and reduce the possibility of further injuring the back while relieving pain as you wear it. You can, of course, cut your own tape strips to the right size, and there are also Pre-cut pieces of tape are available for purchase. The taping treatment is not intended to be sufficient in and of itself, but rather to be used as an assistance to the wearer in being better able to perform the necessary rehabilitative exercises necessary to recover further from sciatica.
Muscle relaxants, prescription pain meds, topical preparations (like St. John’s Wort oil), applying heat or cold packs, herbal medication (such as devil’s claw), and surgery are, of course, also available to assist with pain if necessary.
*As with all my articles, please consult your physician before attempting any of these exercises or treatments.