health

Understanding And Managing Sciatica And Sciatic Pain

by Laura Caseley
Laura is a writer, illustrator, and artist living in New York City.

If you’ve been alive, well, at all, you’ve probably experienced back pain at some point. Maybe you lifted something incorrectly, or slept in a weird position, or maybe you’ve just been forgetting to sit up straight.

While aches and pains are just part of being a human, sometimes, they can get severe enough to prevent us from working, playing, and getting a good night’s sleep.

One of these ailments is sciatica. This condition, caused by irritation of the sciatic nerve in the lower back, is common, especially among people in their 40s and 50s. It’s not a permanent condition, but it’s believed to affect up to 40 percent of people at some point in their lives.

While there’s no complete cure for sciatica, there are many steps you can take to ease pain and prevent further discomfort, all right at home.

And not only are they easy, but they also feel great on a sore back, just like these easy at-home massage techniques using regular golf balls.

Read on to discover how to keep your spine healthy and comfortable, and how to alleviate pain if you’ve been feeling sore.

What Is Sciatica?

What Is Sciatica?
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

Sciatica is a condition characterized by pain that radiates down one leg from the lower back. It typically only affects one side of the body, but the pain can be severe and debilitating.

Most of the time, sciatic pain is caused by a herniated spinal disc, which causes irritation to the sciatic nerve, which manifests as radiating pain, tingling, or numbness. For many people, symptoms will flare up from time to time, and then subside.

Sciatica affects up to 40 percent of people at some point in their lives, usually in their 40s and 50s, and is more frequent in men.

Luckily, there are many ways to soothe sciatic pain.

Comfort Tip #1: Use A Compress

Comfort Tip #1: Use A Compress
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

A compress is great for relieving pain. Depending on your preference, you can use a cold or a hot compress. However, if you have circulatory issues, it’s best to avoid cold compresses.

Leave the compress on for 15 to 20 minutes, and repeat every few hours until the pain subsides.

Comfort Tip #2: Try Some Turmeric

Comfort Tip #2: Try Some Turmeric
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

Turmeric is kind of a wonder spice, so it’s not surprising that it can help with sciatica, too.

It has anti-inflammatory properties thanks to a chemical compound called curcumin, so it’s great for soothing and preventing pain.

You can make a turmeric tea, use the spice in cooking, or simply take a supplement.

If you take a blood thinner, diabetes medication, or have gallstones, however, avoid it.

Comfort Tip #3: Treat Yourself To A Massage

Comfort Tip #3: Treat Yourself To A Massage
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

Massages are all-around awesome, and can help ease sciatic pain. Trigger point massage in particular is great for relieving lower back, thigh, and hip pain.

Using a massage oil of St. John’s Wort, you can gently massage the affected areas yourself, or consider getting a professional massage by a licensed massage therapist. They can help pinpoint specific pain areas, and many are covered by insurance!

Comfort Tip #4: Don't Forget To Stretch

Comfort Tip #4: Don't Forget To Stretch
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

Stretching is important even if you don’t have sciatica, but very important if you do.

Get in the habit of stretching regularly, even if you aren’t planning on doing anything strenuous.

A good stretch for the lower back is to lie on the floor on your back, and bring one knee to your chest as far as is comfortable, hold for 20 seconds, and then gently lower your leg.

Repeat with the other leg, and alternate three to five times. Finish by doing the exercise with both legs at once.

Comfort Tip #5: Warm Up With Capsaicin Cream

Comfort Tip #5: Warm Up With Capsaicin Cream
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

Capsaicin is the chemical compound that causes the “burn” in hot peppers.

While it adds a kick to food, it also works well as a topical pain reliever in the form of a cream that gently warms a sore area.

Look for a cream containing between 0.025 percent and 0.075 percent capsaicin — don’t just rub hot peppers on yourself or you’ll get a chemical burn.

Apply it to the affected area four times a day for about a week. Do not apply on broken skin.

Comfort Tip #6: Sip On Valerian Tea

Comfort Tip #6: Sip On Valerian Tea
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

Valerian root is great for soothing nerve pain, and it doubles as a great, all-natural sleep aid, too.

Sipping a cup of valerian tea at night will soothe your whole body and help you get a good, comfortable night’s sleep.

Comfort Tip #7: Try A Willow Bark Supplement

Comfort Tip #7: Try A Willow Bark Supplement
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

Willow bark contains salicin, which relieves pain temporarily.

A synthetic version of this chemical is the active ingredient in modern aspirin, but willow bark has been used as a pain reliever for centuries.

Today, willow bark comes in capsule form and can be taken as a supplement. As with all supplements, consult with your doctor before starting a regimen.

Comfort Tip #8: Consult With Professionals

Comfort Tip #8: Consult With Professionals
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

There are a number of treatments available for sciatic pain out there, including acupuncture and chiropractic care.

Again, it’s best to consult with your doctor before choosing a therapy like this, as they can help you find something that will work best for your specific needs.

Comfort Tip #9: Be Careful In Everyday Life

Comfort Tip #9: Be Careful In Everyday Life
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

The best treatment for sciatica is prevention. That means taking precautions in everyday life to keep your spine healthy.

Stretch before doing anything physical. When lifting heavy items, lift with your legs and keep your back straight. Avoid over-exerting your back, especially if you’ve had a recent flare-up.

Comfort Tip #10: Take Care Of Your Back Even When Not Moving

Comfort Tip #10: Take Care Of Your Back Even When Not Moving
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

Just because you aren’t moving around doesn’t mean you don’t have to be careful. Sitting, standing, and sleeping properly can make a world of difference when it comes to sciatica.

When sitting, make sure to keep your knees at a higher level than your hips with help from a stool. A pillow supporting the lower back in a chair helps, too.

When sleeping, put a pillow under your legs if you sleep on your back, or between your knees if you sleep on your side. Avoid sleeping on your stomach.

Do you suffer from sciatic pain? What’s the best home remedy you’ve found?

Let us know in the comments, and SHARE with anyone who gets sore from time to time!