The sciatic nerve is the largest single nerve in the human body! It sits on either side of the lower spine, then down through the buttock and into the back of the thigh. It eventually ends in the foot (1). It helps connect the spinal cord with the leg and foot muscles, and can unfortunately cause a lot of pain in certain people.
In fact, over 40% of all people will get sciatica at some point in their life. While most people mistake lower back pain or leg cramps for something else, it is often the sciatic nerve that plays culprit, where a tight muscle (aka. the piriformis) puts pressure on the nerve, pinches it, and causes a fiery pain down the back of your thigh to your legs.
When I suffered from sciatica, my leg always tired out very quickly, and it was so uncomfortable to sit on the buttock that was affected. I couldn’t sit for long periods, and my leg would ache for hours after walking on it for more than an hour.
The six most common causes of sciatic pain are:
– bulging or herniated disc
– lumbar spinal stenosis
– piriformis syndrome
– spinal tumors
While the above are the “most common” causes of sciatic pain, a good majority suffer from sciatic pain due to the tightness of the piriformis muscle constricting the sciatic nerve (whether from injury or over-stretching which inflame the muscle and causes it to press on the nerve – such as in my case).
Generally, people take the route of staying in bed and taking ibuprofen or other over-the-counter pain-killers to find relief. However, before resorting to these, or corrective surgery (which often doesn’t work) to alleviate your pain, try the natural options below.
For me, lots of anti-inflammatory foods, rest, massage, and gentle stretching did the trick. You need to be patient. These things sometimes take a year or two (or more) to get better.
Stretching exercises can help reduce sciatic pain. This is because if your issue is caused by a tight piriformis muscle, you can release the tension by gentle stretching (thereby relieving pressure on the sciatic nerve). Sometimes stretching out the piriformis muscle may be enough to reduce the pain. Only go as far as you feel comfortable. Check out my popular article on stretching out the piriformis muscle.
By inserting hair-thin needles into specific sites on the body, the needles trigger a response from the nervous system. This triggers our brain to automatically release a cascade of natural painkillers (like endorphins and enkephalins), increase blood flow to the painful area, as well as relax the muscles in the surrounding area.
Some people get relief after just one session, but it can take a few sessions for some people to get total relief.
3. Ice Packs
Ice packs are another great way to reduce inflammation in and around the sciatic nerve. Apply a cold ice pack on the affected area (you can wrap it in a towel) every two hours until the pain has diminished.
4. Anti-Inflammatory Herbs
There are plenty of different herbs and essential oils you can use to relieve pain, reduce inflammation and provide a general soothing sensation. Herbs can be taken as a tincture, in pill format, or as a tea. Some of these can also be found as essential oils, which can be applied topically to the area of pain. Some of the best anti-inflammatory herbs recommended for sciatica are as follows:
– Devil’s claw
– White willow bark
– St. John’s Wort
– Jamaican dogwood
– Roman chamomile
– Clary sage
– Linden flower
According to a study published in the Journal of Manipulative Physiological Therapy, “sixty percent of patients with sciatica who had failed other medical management benefited from spinal manipulation to the same degree as if they underwent surgical intervention (2).”
Since sciatica is usually cause by compression of the sciatic nerve, chiropractic can help release those restrictions. A spinal adjustment can reduce nerve irritability responsible for causing inflammation, muscle spasms, pain, and other symptoms that might come with sciatica (3). Just make sure you see someone who is board certified to avoid injury or malpractice.
Licensed massage therapists understand human anatomy so well that a really good therapist can almost completely eliminate sciatic pain. Massage therapists can help release tight muscles, which can then relieve pain and help to readjust the body. You might need a few sessions to really notice a different, but I highly recommend this method of sciatic pain relief, as I used it to remediate my sciatica, and it worked quite well.
7. Epsom Salt Baths
Epsom salts help relax the nervous system, and draw toxins out of the body. Fill a bath with hot water, and add 2 cups of epsom salt. Soak in the bath for 20-40 minutes (the longer, the better). A hot bath will also increase circulation and reduce inflammation in the body.
Are you getting enough sleep? If you’re not sleeping well enough, your body has to work especially hard to heal whatever is out of balance in the body. Not enough sleep can actually increase the inflammatory response in the body and make pain feel worse. If you find sleeping at night difficult, develop a healthy routine, where you wind down at least 1 hour before bed, drink a relaxing chamomile tea, and block out all blue light from computers, cell phones and/or tablets.