The term Sciatica refers to pain that travels along the sciatic nerve, which runs from the base of your lumbar spine (lower back), then down your hips and butt, all the way down your legs. For some people, the pain is minor and tolerable, but the pain can be downright excruciating for others.
Sciatica can be a result of a herniated disk, bone spur, or other abnormality like spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the spine) compressing the nerve.
Sounds scary, right? The good news is that, for most people, treating Sciatica is easily done from home. More good news, piriformis syndrome symptoms are very similar to sciatica symptoms and thus often piriformis syndrome is mistaken for sciatica.
Both can result in pain and inflammation, and can also cause numbness as well. The pain will radiate down one leg, sometimes causing a burning sensation.
However, before we get into some simple treatments, it’s worth mentioning that some people do experience extreme cases of Sciatica worthy of medical attention.
Definitely seek professional help if you experience extreme pain or numbness in your lower back or legs, especially if it happens suddenly or after a significant accident – like a car crash or severe sports injury. Since Sciatica affects the nerves around the buttocks, seek medical attention if you have trouble controlling your bowels. All of these signs could point to something more severe than just Sciatica.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about simple relief anyone can do to alleviate most, if not all, of your sciatic nerve pain. It’s important to note that repetitive patterns are often the cause of our pains.
Restoring proper function is the way out of pain, and movement is the key to do so. For example, if you spend a great deal of time sitting, that can lead to inflammation of the piriformis muscle that causes irritation of the sciatic nerve. In the case of both sciatica and piriformis syndrome, stretching exercises and massage are paramount for recovery.
If you’ve read any of my other posts (link to Backmate blog), you know I try everything I can to stay away from pills and medication—even things like muscle relaxants. I’m a fan of natural healing methods, and there’s nothing as natural as ice and heat.
To start, apply ice or cold packs to the affected area – 20 minutes on, 20 minutes (at least) off. The cold will reduce inflammation and gently numb the nerve. After 48 hours, switch to heat packs to relax the muscles. For some, back spasms can make sciatic nerve pains even worse, so calming the muscles and stopping the spasms can provide relief.
Alternatively, chiropractic adjustments to help align the spine have been shown to provide relief for some people, as spinal compression and stenosis can cause misalignment, leading to sciatic pain. On the topic of alternative medicine, acupuncture has also been associated with pain relief due to Sciatica.
Generally speaking, however, physical therapy methods to cope with Sciatica involve the same basic principle I preach in all of my posts – living healthy, active lifestyles, functional movement. In this particular case, strengthening the lower back and core muscles and proper stretching of the lower body can help tame the pain associated with Sciatica.
Since that pain is often felt in the hips, this is the first area to target when stretching. The pigeon pose, and variations of it, are perfect stretches to target this exact area. Below are instructions on how to do it. If you practice yoga, then many of these poses will be familiar to you.
Lying on your back, bring your left leg up, and bend at the knee. Lock your hands together behind the thigh. Then lift your right leg and put your left ankle on top of your right knee. Hold that position. After 30 seconds to a minute, switch to the other leg.
You should feel a stretch throughout your hips, including the piriformis – this is important because the piriformis can be hard to stretch. After all, it’s a small muscle, but it can become inflamed and press against the sciatic nerve.
This one is easy and will give you a good stretch of the lower back and buttocks. Sit on the floor, legs out in front of you. Bend a leg and put that ankle over the other knee. Lean forward and reach for your toes. Hold this position for 30 seconds and then switch sides.
Lie on your back with your legs extended in front of you. Bring your left leg up, bend at the knee, and grab your knee with your hands. From there, pull your left leg across your body until you feel a nice stretch (not pain!). Hold this position for 5-10 seconds, then go back to the starting position and do it again. Do three reps total and then switch legs.
The knee-to-shoulder stretch is a fantastic way to relieve sciatic pain because it targets the glutes and piriformis muscles and helps them from touching the sciatic nerve. The last stretch, the sitting spinal stretch, is great for relieving pressure on the sciatic nerve due to spine compression. And it’s easy to do.
Sit on the ground, legs in front of you. Bend a knee and place that foot on the floor outside the opposite knee. Now take the elbow that’s on the same side as the flat leg and place it outside the bent knee. Turn your body in that direction gently. Hold for 30 seconds for 3 reps. Switch sides and do it again.
If you’re paying attention to the cause of Sciatica or piriformis syndrome and the natural remedies we can practice to relieve the pain, then you might have noticed it all centers around relaxing tight muscles and stretching.
The Backmate is the perfect tool for relaxing, stretching, and massaging all the areas impacted most by sciatic nerve pain – the area surrounding the lumbar spine, the glutes, hips, and all the muscles in your legs. All you have to do is reposition the Backmate in your door frame and roll the pain away.
Starting with the lumbar spine, I like to start with the rollers parallel to the floor (side by side). Then I’ll gently roll along the base of the lumbar spine for about 10-30 seconds.
You can use both rollers or just one to angle in for a deeper massage. Want to go deeper on your QL’s? Use the disc-shaped blade roller to increase the pressure. You can also rotate the rollers 90 degrees and roll left-to-right, adjacent to the spine, to help relax the surrounding muscles.
The Backmate is well suited for hip massages, too. Simply turn your hips towards the rollers and work the tightness away. Depending on the pain you’re experiencing, you can lean into it as deep or shallow as you feel comfortable.
See the instructional video here:
The same applies to the glutes. Many people take this area for granted when it comes to stretching and massage, but just think about how big the gluteus muscle group encompasses and remember the sciatic nerve runs under the glutes.
Massaging the glutes is super effective and feels great too! If you suffer from sciatic pain, you owe it to yourself to roll the glutes to relieve that pain. The Backmate is perfectly suited for that role.
One of the beautiful aspects of the Backmate is its ability to target virtually muscle groups in the leg, so depending on how deep or far your sciatic pain reaches, the Backmate is there.
Sciatica and piriformis syndrome can be downright debilitating and painful. I get it. Luckily, we know how to treat the pain naturally with proper stretching, massaging, and other natural treatments. And relieving that pain is a big reason why Backmate exists in the first place.
I hope that it can bring you the relief you need, just as it has for me, my family, and my friends. We’re in this together, and I, along with the entire Backmate team, am by your side.
As always, yours in good health,