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Sciatic pain can be intermittent or be constant to the extent that it immobilizes you—but although it may be tempting to see bed rest as the perfect form of sciatica relief, this can actually worsen the problem, since lack of physical activity weakens the muscles that support the spine.
Medical Approaches to Sciatic Pain
Medical sciatica relief methods include taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn). Anti-seizure drugs such as gabapentin (Neurontin), and pregabalin also may be given to help you manage sciatic pain, along with occasional corticosteroid injections to soothe inflammation around the sciatica nerve.
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Self-Help Strategies for Sciatica Pain
Things you can do yourself to ease sciatic pain include icing the area for 15 to 20 minutes several times a day. This can be an effective back spasms treatment, decreasing pain by cooling the muscles and anesthetizing the sciatica nerve. If you don’t have a proper ice-pack, use a bag of frozen peas, but don’t apply it directly to your skin—wrap it in a towel. After a few days of ice-pack treatment, try alternating with heat packs.
Exercise also can help ease sciatic pain, but as a precaution, ask your doctor to refer you to a physical therapist who can show you effective exercises that help stretch and relax your muscles without further irritating the sciatica nerve.
The best exercises are those that gently stretch the muscles of the lower back while also strengthening the abdominal muscles. Examples include:
- Low back stretch with rotation. Sit in a straight-back chair, with your feet flat on the floor and your knees spread shoulder-width apart. Turn your body slightly to the left and let both hands hang loosely over your left knee. Tuck your chin to your chest, keep your shoulders down, and roll down as your arms drop toward the floor. Hold for five seconds, and then return to the sitting position by tightening your abdominal muscles and squeezing your buttocks together. Your lower back should roll up first, then your shoulders, and then your head. Repeat on the right side. Do the exercise three to six times on each side.
- Pelvic tilt. Sit in a straight-back chair, with your feet on the floor. Relax your back against the back of the chair. Pull in your stomach muscles, squeeze your buttocks together, and try to gently push the small of your back down and into the back of the chair. Count out loud to five, and then let go. Repeat the exercise three times daily.
You also might want to consider alternative approaches like acupuncture to ease your sciatic pain. This form of traditional Chinese medicine involves the insertion of very fine needles into certain areas in order to clear “blockages” in the flow of energy through the body. Studies suggest that acupuncture can help to relieve chronic pain, and few risks are associated with the practice, although you may experience a slight burning or stinging sensation when the needles are inserted.
Originally published in May 2016 and updated.