Professionals estimate that roughly 50-70% of people will experience sciatica pain within their lifetime. Treating sciatica involves both a proper spinal care protocol coupled with proper at-home techniques that can be done to help minimize symptoms. With a few tips and practices together we can help minimize those sciatica symptoms one day at a time.
Before we discuss proper ways to help minimize sciatica like symptoms, let’s first discuss why people develop sciatica in the first place. The spine consists of 31 pairs of spinal nerve roots that traverse down the spinal column. Of these pairs the spinal nerve roots in the lumbar spine come together and form the sciatica nerve. The sciatica nerve travels down through the buttock region and travels down the posterior portion of the legs. At our office, we note the most common causes of sciatica radiculopathy to be disk herniations, spinal stenosis, bone spurs, and facet syndrome.
Any of these conditions will cause inflammation to one or both of the sciatica nerve roots, leading to an inflammatory response that can range from a mild numbness at the big toe, to a severe shock like sensation that can affect both legs. We typically address these issues with specific spinal decompressive therapies in the office however; at home we can also make subtle changes in the way we sleep to help eliminate these symptoms.
At home Therapies
Sciatica pain can significantly affect the quality of sleep we experience on a daily basis. The easiest ways to help alleviate sciatica symptoms include adopting a better sleeping posture. This includes Sleeping on your back with a thin pillow under the head and a medium sized pillow under your knees with your knees bent. This position will decrease the tension on the sciatic nerve. Instead of using a pillow another option is to purchase a reputable therapeutic pillow for sciatica; this will put your knees and hips in the most ideal position. If back sleeping is too difficult to maintain throughout the night then, a side sleeping position can also help decrease sciatica-like symptoms. This includes using a medium sized pillow to support the head and neck in a neutral position. The spine should not be flexed to far forward and should also be in a more neutral position, with the knees slightly bent with a small pillow placed in between the knees to help ease the position of the hip. For all of the stomach sleepers out there, it is not recommended to sleep on your stomach when sciatica symptoms occur however if you cannot break this bad habit place a medium sized pillow under the ankles with your knees slightly bent to help slacken out the sciatica nerve.
Heat and ice are also powerful therapy options that can be utilized to help decrease the symptoms associated with pain. Typically if you are having an acute flare-up ice is the better of the two treatments to apply to the low back. You can safely use the 15-minute rule, which means you can cycle between applying the cold compress to the low back for 15 minutes followed by 15 minutes of rest. Keep in mind that ice packs should never be applied directly to the skin. Heat is used more in the chronic sciatica patient; this therapy will increase circulation to the lumbar spine and help relieve muscle tension.
Another recommendation is to take a bath using Epsom salts. Epsom salts have been used for years to help alleviate muscle tension and pain. These salts permeate through the skin and aid in replenishing the muscles potassium levels. This is a natural relaxant that has been very effective in helping many musculoskeletal complaints including sciatica.
You will have to determine which treatment better works for you as everyone is unique and the sciatica complaint may be affecting each individual in a different way.
Other than utilizing spinal decompression and flexion distraction therapies, I find that changing your sleeping environment is extremely important when managing the short and long term prognosis of sciatica. It is recommended that a mattress should be flipped and rotated every three months to avoid wear and tear on the same spot on the bed each evening. This will extend the longevity of the mattress and better support the spine.
We sleep on our mattress approximately a third of our life, so it is important to first purchase a mattress that is ideal for your spinal type. Generally, a medium firm works for most spinal types and provide the most comfort and support for the spine. However, not all mattresses are created equal and it is imperative to find one that provides the most support and is cost effective. If you have any question on the type of mattress that I recommend for your spinal type we can set aside some time to help better assess and match you with the most ideal mattress.