Maybe you have a herniated disc. Perhaps it’s spinal stenosis. Whatever the source of your nerve pain is, it can be a real problem that interferes with your daily life. Luckily, there are ways you can find relief from your sciatica pain, from conservative methods at home to more invasive treatments.
*Always check with your doctor before trying any exercises. This guide is not a replacement for seeing a medical professional.
1. Stretching and Yoga
Stretching is an excellent way to feel instant relief. You can do it every morning and night, as well as several times throughout the day. Some stretches and yoga poses for sciatica pain include:
Lie down on your back. Bend both knees at a 90 degree angle and drop them to one side, then stretch out your arms and turn your head to the opposite side. Keep both shoulders on the ground. Switch sides.
Targets: Glutes, chest, obliques
Figure-4 stretch (lying, seated, or standing)
Lying down: Lie on your back and cross one leg over the other so that the ankle is near the knee. Thread your arm through the loop in the “4” and gently pull your leg toward you, using the crossed leg to create resistance. Switch sides.
Sitting: In a chair, cross one leg over the other so that the ankle is near the knee. Lean forward and use your arms to gently push down on the top leg. Switch sides.
Standing: Stand with one leg bent and the other crossed on top. Use your arms to gently push down on the top leg. Switch sides.
Targets: Hips, lower back, glutes
Get on all fours, and then bend one leg and slowly lower your body. Place the outside of the knee on the floor by your wrist. Extend the other leg behind you so that it is flat on the floor. Next, either keep your hands on the floor, raise them and look up, or outstretch them on the floor in front of you and fold your body forward. Keep your hips square to the front. Switch sides.
Targets: Glutes, hips
Sit with your legs outstretched, and then bend your knees and bring the bottoms of your feet together. Use your arms to gently push your knees toward the floor - it’s okay if they don’t touch the floor. Hold your feet with your hands and bend your body forward, keeping your back straight.
Targets: Hips, inner thighs
Sit on your heels, and then open your knees while keeping your big toes together. Bring your body forward until your forehead touches the floor while reaching your arms out in front of you.
Targets: Back, hips, chest
There are many free gentle yoga videos on YouTube that allow you to follow along. Some are even created specifically to relieve sciatic nerve pain. Here’s one to start with.
Always move with care when you stretch and don’t push yourself too hard. If you start to feel pain, stop immediately. While a little discomfort may be normal, pain is not.
2. Foam Rolling and Massages
Foam rolling has been called the “poor man’s massage” because it’s a great way to relax your muscles and stimulate blood flow using nothing but a foam roller. Foam rollers can be very affordable and don’t take up much space.
There are plenty of YouTube videos that you can follow along with, like this one for lower back pain relief. The basic idea is to put weight on the roller and roll back and forth to give yourself a massage. You can even do it while watching TV or reading a book.
The back is a sensitive area, so be very careful when foam rolling your back. You should also avoid going over joints.
3. Strength Exercises
While stretching and foam rolling feel good, the relief is only temporary. If you want lasting results, you’ll need to strengthen your back, hips, glutes, and abs. This will reduce the amount of stress you’re putting on your spine and improve your posture. Doing strength exercises consistently also helps reduce the risk of injury in the future. Here are a few strength exercises to try:
Planks and side planks
Get on all fours. Extend both legs behind you and balance on your toes. Lower your torso by putting your elbows on the floor, and hold yourself up. Keep your back straight and parallel to the floor.
Targets: Abs, back, chest, shoulders, glutes, quads, calves
Quadruped arm/leg raises
Get on all fours, and then raise one arm straight in front of you and parallel to the floor. At the same time, straighten the opposite leg and raise it behind you, also parallel to the floor. Switch sides.
Targets: Glutes, hamstrings, abs, lower back, shoulders
Lie down on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Keeping your shoulders on the floor, raise your pelvis until a straight line is formed from your knees to your shoulders.
Targets: Glutes, hamstrings, lower back, hips
Stand and take a step forward. Lower your body, bending your front leg to a 90 degree angle. Switch sides.
Targets: Glutes, hamstrings, quads
Lie on your stomach. Raise your head, arms, and shoulders. At the same time, raise your legs.
Targets: Back, abs, glutes, hips, shoulders
You should also keep up a healthy level of general activity. Walking and swimming are perfect low-impact activities that will get you moving.
4. Cold/Hot Packs
Hot and cold therapy is a safe way to relieve pain quickly, as long as you don’t overdo it.
Heat encourages blood flow and healing while cold lowers inflammation. One may work better for you than the other. Sometimes, alternating hot and cold works wonders.
When applying heat or ice, make sure to wrap the pack in a towel or provide some other barrier to the skin. Place it on your lower back and hold it there for 15 to 20 minutes. You can do this several times per day.
5. Meditation and Breathing
Our brains are often more powerful than we think. It’s surprising how much we can change just by focusing on the right things and visualizing ourselves pain-free.
This is partly because when we’re anxious, we tense up our bodies and are more likely to feel physical pain. Achieving calmness through meditation and breathing exercises can sometimes be enough to relax our bodies and ease our pain.
If the idea of meditation intimidates you or if you find it too hard to sit in silence, starting with a guided meditation might help. There are lots of free podcasts and other resources that are geared towards beginners, such as this one for pain relief.
There are many over-the-counter pain relievers that can help you manage your pain. Acetaminophen, aspirin, and NSAIDs such as ibuprofen are often enough to make you feel better. For more severe pain, you can talk to your provider about prescription pain relievers.
As always, make sure to follow dosage instructions and check for interactions with any other medications you take.
7. Steroid Injections
If you’re looking for relief that can last up to several months, consider getting an epidural cortisone injection. This is a quick and simple procedure where medication is injected directly into your back near the nerve roots.
Cortisone injections don’t work for everyone, but if they work for you, you should feel relief immediately. Keep in mind that this is a short-term solution and won’t fix the cause of your pain. The relief lasts anywhere from a week to a year, with an average of 3 months. You can receive injections up to three times per year if needed. The risk is low with this treatment. The most common complication is infection, but this happens in less than 1% of cases.
If you’ve tried every other method and your pain is still unmanageable, you may be looking at surgery.
Surgery techniques vary based on the cause of your sciatica. One of the most common methods is used to treat a herniated disc. It is a minimally invasive procedure called a microdiscectomy, where a surgeon removes a small amount of material to take pressure off the nerve root.
Surgery is an option you should consider carefully because it comes with several serious risks. If your pain is acute, moderate, or doesn’t affect your life severely, it might be best to stick with the other remedies on the list. But if your pain has been persistent and is interfering with your ability to live your life, it’s a worthwhile option.