8 Expert ways to manage sciatica
Mr Ahmed Ibrahim, a Consultant Neurosurgeon at London Sports Orthopaedics, part of London Bridge Hospital and HCA Healthcare UK, is a specialist in spinal conditions—including sciatica. Here he reveals eight ways you can manage pain or discomfort caused by the condition…
The term sciatica describes symptoms of leg pain—such as tingling, numbness, or weakness—which originates in the lower back and travels through the buttocks and down the large sciatic nerve in the back of the leg. The condition is most common in older adults between the ages of 30 and 60, but it’s also prominent in pregnant women.
Sciatica most commonly occurs as the result of conditions caused by spinal degeneration, such as a slipped disc (when a soft cushion of tissue between the bones in your spine pushes out), spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the part of your spine where nerves pass through), spondylolisthesis (when one of the bones in your spine slips out of position) or a back injury, which puts pressure on the spine.
Although the symptoms will eventually subside, there are some methods you can undertake to help to manage or reduce the pain.
Read more: The dos and don'ts of back pain
1. Stretch regularly
In a lot of cases, sciatica pain is caused by irritation of nerves of the lower spine, often as a result of a herniated disc. The irritated nerve roots carry signals to the brain, such as pain and sensation as well as receive movement signals from the brain.
Gentle stretching exercises, which are carried out regularly, can help to relieve some of the pain associated with the irritated nerve roots.
Ensure you have supervision from a therapist to perform stretches correctly.
2. Walk more
Gentle aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, is usually a key component of recovery for sciatica. Gentle aerobic conditioning also has the unique benefit of releasing endorphins, the body's natural pain killers, which helps to reduce spine-related pain.
When patients engage in a regular program of gentle exercises, they can recover more quickly from sciatica pain and are less likely to have future episodes of pain.
Read more: Walk your way to better health
3. Be conscious of your posture
Taking care of your posture is a smart way to care for your spine, so be mindful of the way you hold yourself when sitting and standing.
For example, sitting for long periods of time can worsen sciatica-related pain, so it’s important to ensure that you are moving at regular intervals throughout the day. If possible, try to stand up every 20-30 minutes and walk a couple of laps around your office or home.
Other simple tips to reduce pain, whilst being mindful of your posture, includes sitting include not crossing your legs, positioning your feet flat on the floor and keeping hips and knees bent at a 45-degree angle.
4. Hot and cold packs
Another simple way to manage pain involves holding a combination of hot and cold packs on the affected area.
A cold pack will help to reduce inflammation and provide pain relief, and a heat pack will help to increase blood flow. A cold pack can be applied onto the affected area for 20 minutes, and then alternated with the heat pack.
Carry this out one to two times per day if you find that it helps to reduce the severity of your symptoms.
5. Stop smoking
Recent research has suggested that smokers are more likely to develop disc degeneration and chronic back pain than those who do not smoke, as the habit reduces their resilience to pain.
With this in mind, I always advise smokers with sciatica to quit—or at least decrease the number of cigarettes they are smoking daily—to help to lessen the amount of pain they are experiencing.
Read more: How to quit smoking
6. Maintain a healthy weight
Excess body weight can put additional stress or pressure on your spine, which can trigger some of the spinal disorders that lead to sciatica.
Keeping a healthy weight can, therefore, contribute a great deal toward reducing your risk of developing debilitating sciatic nerve pain.
In a similar way, reducing your weight can help with the healing process as it will take pressure off the affected area and lessen inflammation.
Read more: The ultimate guide to weight loss
7. Get a massage
A massage will not only relax the muscles in your back, but it will also help to loosen any muscles or tissues that are affected by the sciatic nerve—thus lessening the amount of pain or discomfort experienced.
Certain forms of massage therapy have been shown to release endorphins, which are the body’s natural pain relievers.
8. Seek professional help
In some cases, sciatica symptoms can be very severe or may not subside over time. In these cases, I would always advise making an appointment with your local GP or a sciatica expert to investigate the condition further.
Surgery may be helpful in patients who have failed therapy or have severe pain. In most cases, sciatica surgery is elective, meaning that it is the patient’s decision whether to have surgery or not which is based primarily on the amount of pain and the length of time that the pain persists.
Contemporary surgery can be done as day case through a muscle sparing minimally invasive surgery which has no long-lasting adverse effects on the spine.
Urgent surgery is typically only necessary if the patient experiences severe pain in the legs or sudden loss of bowel or bladder control, which may be caused by cauda equina syndrome.
For more information contact HCAUK@thephagroup.com / 020 7025 1363 / 07876 899 925
About HCA Healthcare UK
- HCA Healthcare UK is the country’s largest provider of privately funded healthcare, with 800,000 patient interactions every year. From complex and urgent
- HCA Healthcare UK includes London Bridge Hospital, The Portland Hospital, The Harley Street Clinic, The Lister Hospital, The Princess Grace Hospital, The Wellington Hospital, Roodlane Medical Ltd, and Blossoms Healthcare. HCA UK also