Between one and ten percent of people in the United States are affected by sciatic nerve pain (also known as sciatica). If you’re part of this group, you know how frustrating and painful this condition can be, especially when it seems to pop up out of nowhere.
Luckily, though, sciatic nerve pain doesn’t have to be a regular part of your life. With a little hard work and research, you can keep the pain at bay and significantly improve your quality of life.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about preventing and managing sciatic nerve pain.
What is the Sciatic Nerve?
The sciatic nerve is a large nerve that starts in the lower back and extends behind the hip joint and down the back of the leg, ending in the foot.
When the sciatic nerve is irritated or has pressure placed on it, you may experience pain anywhere from the lower back to the sole of your foot.
Other symptoms associated with sciatic nerve pain include:
- Lower back pain
- Lower body injuries like pulled calf muscles or foot pain
- Difficulty walking or performing other physical activities
You may also notice a change in sensation (burning or numbness) or muscle power in your lower body as a result of the pressure or irritation.
What Causes Sciatic Nerve Pain?
Anyone can experience sciatic nerve pain. But, people who spend a lot of time sitting or lying down are at a greater risk. Age also plays a role in sciatic nerve pain, and older adults are more prone to it than younger people. This may be because older adults tend to be more sedentary.
Some other factors that contribute to sciatic nerve pain include:
The following health conditions can also cause sciatic nerve pain:
- Pelvic fractures
- Gunshot wounds or trauma to the thighs or buttocks
- Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal that puts pressure on the spinal nerves)
- Tumors, abscesses, or bleeding in the pelvis
How to Prevent Sciatic Nerve Pain
If you’ve struggled with sciatic nerve pain in the past and want to keep it at bay, these tips can help:
- Maintain good posture when sitting or standing — Keep your spine straight, ears aligned with shoulders and shoulders aligned with hips. Be sure to keep your glutes tucked in and knees bent slightly.
- Practice low-impact forms of exercise like walking or swimming to strengthen the lower back.
- Practice proper lifting form — lift from a squatting position, use the hips and legs rather than relying on your lower back.
- Don’t sit for extended periods of time — get up at least once an hour to walk around, especially if you work in an office
- Practice proper sleep posture — sleep on your back or side and put a pillow underneath or between your knees to maintain proper spinal alignment.
How to Treat Sciatic Nerve Pain
When you’re in the middle of a bad bout of sciatic nerve pain, it’s easy to feel as though there’s no end in sight. Keep these treatment tips in mind to lessen your pain and help you maintain your quality of life while you work through it.
- Alternate between hot and cold treatments to improve blood flow and relieve your pain
- Work with a physical therapist to learn corrective exercises and stretches that can help reduce inflammation and the pressure being placed on your sciatic nerve
- Use a mobility aid (such as a can or crutch) to make moving around easier
- Limit bed rest to three days — it’s important to keep moving to maintain proper blood flow and reduce the pressure on your nerve
- Use over-the-counter painkillers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen as needed
- You can also try alternative therapies like massage, biofeedback, aromatherapy, and acupuncture. Many people find these therapies to be just as, if not more, effective as traditional treatment options.
Once you’re feeling better and your sciatic nerve pain is in remission, be sure to practice the prevention tips mentioned above on a regular basis. Don’t just wait until another flare-up occurs – be proactive instead.