Did you know that low back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide and is now one of the leading causes of Emergency Department visits? Not only that but a large percentage of those addicted to opioids started their opioid journey as a result of having suffered from low back pain.
Low back pain is now the second most common reason for visits to the doctor’s office right behind upper-respiratory infections.
While the point of this article is to give you some at-home recommendations of what you can do to help sciatica at home (and we will do just that momentarily), you should also be aware of the number one thing that can be done if “at-home” therapies do not work so we will cover that first.
The first thing is first, the American College of Physicians' recommendations as first-line therapies for low back pain (acute and chronic) are SPINAL MANIPULATION (CHIROPRACTIC), massage, heat, and exercise rehabilitation. Chronic low back pain may also respond well to yoga, acupuncture, and Thai Chi.
Also, recent research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association supports SPINAL MANIPULATION (CHIROPRACTIC) as an effective means for treating low back pain. The FDA, the CDC, and The Joint Commission now recommend Chiropractic as a safe means to treat back pain. The White House and Consumer Reports have also published reports supporting chiropractic for back pain as well. It’s here, it’s current, and for back and neck pain, it’s all in favor of chiropractic.
Dr. Lee Green, Professor of Family Medicine at the University of Michigan said, “Neck pain is a mechanical problem, and it makes sense that mechanical treatment works better than a chemical one.” Although Dr. Green is referring to neck pain in this instance, “low back pain” can easily be substituted.
What he says could not make more sense.
It’s an easy and very concise way to understand why Chiropractic, manipulation, mobilization, and targeted exercise is so incredibly effective above and beyond anything else for this sort of issue, including medication.
Now, let’s define the term Sciatica.
What does it mean exactly?
When we visit the Mayo Clinic’s website we get this definition: “Sciatica refers to pain that radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve, which branches from your lower back through your hips and buttocks and down each leg. Typically, sciatica affects only one side of your body.”
Many of our patients believe that sciatica happens by itself. It does not. It is a symptom, or a result, of something else. The most common causes of sciatica are herniated discs, degeneration of the spine (bone spurs in the spine), degeneration of the disc itself, or narrowing of the spine also known as stenosis.
Sure, it’s great to help sciatica at home but that is not always an option. Sciatica can sometimes be challenging because different causes mean different treatments need to be prescribed to target each different cause. Many times, a good chiropractor well-trained in diagnosing the different reasons for sciatica can be very effective in treating it.
Take for example stenosis: there are targeted stenosis exercises, some distraction of the low back spine may be helpful, ultimately a surgical consult may be necessary but many times simple manipulation is highly effective.
Disc herniations respond very well to gentle spinal manipulation, either flexion bias or extension bias exercises, non-surgical spinal decompression, and core building.
If the doctor were to give disc-targeted protocols to a patient suffering sciatica as a result of stenosis, then the practitioner missed the mark in this patient and the treatment will likely be minimally effective. This is one other reason that treating sciatic nerve pain at home can be very ineffective at times.
Since we have covered the fact that sciatica is treatable in a conservative, non-pharmaceutical way by a competent chiropractor, let us now cover how you may be able to control or treat your sciatica at home by yourself. Treating sciatic nerve pain at home is less expensive and less stressful.
Triggers of Low Back Pain & Sciatica
What typically triggers back pain or brings on sciatica events? There are several things that can put a person at risk. If you know some of the causes of sciatica, then you can have a better idea of how to avoid it in the first place. Some of them are as follows:
- Sitting often and sitting for long periods
- Little exercise or activity
- Inattention when performing physical activities
- Bad posture
- Lifting and twisting
Here’s the great news: most cases of back pain will resolve on their own from 2-4 weeks after they begin. That’s great news for everyone!
Let us assume however that you want to speed things up by treating your sciatic nerve pain at home. Maybe your pain has gone more than 4 weeks and just doesn’t seem to want to let up. If you still are not yet ready to make the phone call to a competent chiropractor, then here are some suggestions that may help sciatica at home.
Many people want to simply lay in bed and wait until the pain passes. This is a terrible idea. You must be moving and moving regularly. Movement is healing while inactivity only prolongs the pain. This does not mean people need to be mowing the lawn, doing dishes, or washing laundry. But the movement is always going to be better than inactivity.
Specifically, piriformis stretching. The easiest way to perform a piriformis stretch is to cross the hurt leg over the other while sitting in a chair. Cross the leg in a “wide cross” fashion and then simply bend forward. You should feel your buttock begin to stretch and tighten. To increase the stretch, while bent forward in your chair, begin to bring your crossed knee toward your chest.
The BEST Piriformis Stretch
The most effective piriformis stretch requires help. Lie on your back with the affected leg bent and the foot flat on the floor. have your helper apply downward but comfortable pressure on the knee (being careful to not put pressure directly on the kneecap) tightening the hip joint on the hurt side. Obviously, do not perform this stretch if the patient already has hip issues such as degeneration, hip replacement, avascular necrosis, etc. Next, while maintaining the pressure and hip tightness, the helper then brings the knee across the body toward the other hip. Simply tell the helper when to stop and hold the stretch for 10 seconds. Repeat two more times during the session. You can do this stretching exercise 1-2 times per day as long as it is improving rather than worsening the complaint.
Proper movement habits
Pretend you have a fluorescent light bulb taped from the back of your head all the way down to your tailbone. Through your daily activities and movements, your job is to NOT BREAK the light bulb. No lifting and twisting. Keep your nose with your toes. Follow these general ideas and you will likely do much better in preventing the future incidence of back pain.
Targeted Trigger Point Treatment
By using a racquetball, tennis ball, or something similar, you can target the piriformis muscle yourself. Simply lay on your back and roll over the ball in the strategic area you see in the picture below. Many times, loosening up the piriformis muscle can give relief to sciatic pain.
It goes without saying, but do not perform any exercises without the permission or guidance of your doctor.
Low back pain can seriously affect your life and keep you from living up to your full potential. Many times, it will resolve on its own. Being able to help sciatica at home and helping sciatic nerve pain at home is highly satisfying.
If not successful though, we hope we have given you some simple at-home tips. Tips that can help you self-manage your pain and hopefully treat it effectively at home.
Ultimately, some sciatic pain will not resolve. Sometimes it is simply too intense to withstand. If so, get yourself to a reputable, evidence-based, and competent Doctor of Chiropractic as soon as possible.
Not only can your Doctor of Chiropractic commonly treat sciatica cost-effectively and relatively quickly, they can also give you a responsible referral to a medical professional should you need it.
Good luck in your journey to help sciatica and treat sciatic nerve pain at home!
Dr. Jeff Williams, DC, FIANM is a Fellowship-trained Neuromusculoskeletal specialist and chiropractor in Amarillo, TX. As an Amarillo chiropractor, Dr. Williams treats chronic pain, disc pain, low back pain, neck pain, whiplash injuries, and more. Dr. Williams is also the host of The Chiropractic Forward Podcast. Through the podcast, Dr. Williams teaches fellow chiropractors and advocates weekly for evidence-based, patient-centered practice through current and relevant research. If you have any questions for Dr. Williams, feel free to email at [email protected]
Learn more about Dr. Williams and his practice at https://www.amarillochiropractor.com. Dr. Williams's full-time Amarillo chiropractic practice is Creek Stone Integrated Care at 3501 SW 45th St., Ste. T, Amarillo, TX 79109
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Jeff S Williams, DC, FIANM, DABFP