Today I want to talk about the best treatment for sciatica pain. If you are one of the millions of people who deal with back pain, you will want to keep reading. I would like to take some time to discuss what is sciatica pain, ways to treat sciatica symptoms and my experience with these methods.
The first thing I want to do is define just exactly what sciatica is. In short, pain that travels along the sciatic nerve is referred to as sciatica. Sciatica is a symptom and not a diagnosis itself. At a super basic level, the spine is made up of bones, which are the vertebrae, and discs, which act as shock absorbers for the vertebrae (bones)
Sciatica is a symptom of another issue, something that is compressing or irritating the nerve root like:
- Herniated disc – a rupture in the outer wall of a disc, which allows the gel-like inner part of the disc to press against the nerve root
- Degenerative disc disease – the discs themselves can weaken, and this allows the bones (vertebrae) to touch and pinch the nerves
- Lumbar spinal stenosis which is the narrowing of the spinal canal
The pain you feel associated with sciatica might be a tingling sensation or shooting pain in the lower leg. You may also have numbness or weakness along this path as well. I have had pretty much all of these, pain, tingling, numbness and weakness in different areas, ranging from my butt, all the way down to my toes.
In the lumbar spine, we reference the five vertebrae L1-L5, and the upper part of the sacrum S1. Where you feel the pain depends on which vertebrae level in your spine the injury occurs. The location of the pain will vary depending on the level of the injury, for example, damage at the L4 level can cause pain from the lower back to the foot. I have had pain in my toes before, which indicates damage at the L5 level.
I have dealt with sciatica symptoms a lot in my life and have been to many different healthcare providers. I would like to continue by discussing some treatment options, and my successes or lack of with each.
Best treatment for sciatica pain
Over the years, since 1999 I have been dealing with back problems of the herniated disc variety. Throughout my journey, many doctors have advised me not to see a chiropractor for my back problems. These doctors mostly prescribed painkillers.
In 2015, I suffered another blown disc, and I sprained my pelvis. I did not want to have back surgery again (as I did in October 1999). I had very little success with other methods, so I decided to see a very highly recommended chiropractor, and I am glad I did.
I had other issues going on, but sciatica was one of them. The chiropractor was extremely helpful with my condition, and I am very comfortable with the care I received. Chiropractors do not just provide spinal adjustments, although that is what they are widely known for.
Adjustments do help to align the spine to the proper position, which can help to relieve the irritated nerve, which will in turn help with sciatica symptoms.
When you are suffering from sciatica, the last you might think will help is exercise. Being physically active can help exchange nutrients and fluids within the discs to keep them healthy. Even getting out for a 15-20 walk can be helpful. If you are not able to walk without pain, you might try swimming or other water exercises to help with your back pain. Exercising in the water can be great since there will be less pressure on your spine while you are in the water.
One thing that has been a tremendous help for me has been building core strength. I think this has had a significant impact on my sciatica flare-ups by creating strength in the muscles that help to support the spine.
The purpose of injections (Epidural steroid injections) is to reduce inflammation that may be the cause of your sciatica pain. They perform these injections, using x-ray equipment, so they can see exactly where to put the juice in the area directly around the nerve.
When I had problems with my back in 2011, the first and only time I heard something “pop” in my back, I tried injections. The pain clinic I went to administered injections two days during the week. I cannot tell you how many people were there getting injections! People of all shapes and sizes, young and old. This was the place to be if you wanted an injection for pain, let me tell you.
The first time I tried this, my disc was herniated in two spots, so they shot the bigger of the two problem areas.
The protocol was to have the injection and then come back in for a follow up one week later. I did not get any relief from this treatment. Therefore, the doctor set me up with another appointment a few weeks later and this time he would hit both spots, this time with a double dose.
The result was one of the strangest feelings I have ever experienced. I need to back up for just a minute. At the pain clinic, they offer you the option to be knocked out for these injections.
I am a tough guy (or at least I pretend to be), so I stayed awake. Also, I needed to be able to drive myself home, which I couldn’t do if I were knocked out.
About 30 minutes after I left the doctor’s office, I literally could not feel my leg from the knee down. Now imagine driving a car, I had to pick my right leg up and move it from the gas to the break.
Lesson learned I definitely should not have driven myself home. Somehow, I made it, but that was not a good idea. Given the fact that the previous shot did nothing for me, I did not know what to expect.
Anyway, the sciatica pain did not subside, and my foot eventually gained feeling again. So, long story short, I have not had success with injections in my experience.
I have discovered there are a lot of people who rely on yoga for back problems and my chiropractor reinforced this for me. I did not realize the benefits yoga could provide.
I have come to rely on practicing yoga to help me with not only sciatica but also core strength, balance, and flexibility.
I would recommend trying an online class, or if you belong to a gym that offers a class, it might be worth a look. One thing I would say is to talk to the instructor beforehand and let them know you are dealing with sciatica. There are modifications to poses that you can make if you are not able to perform the poses.
The instructors I have encountered are more than happy to accommodate you and make the experience enjoyable. Instructors realize the value of yoga for back problems and want to help you.
Lately, I have taken to the internet and found some great online videos. I have seen some excellent videos for dealing with sciatica specifically as well as others like yoga for hips and lower back, yoga for back pain, etc. I love doing just a short 30-minute session that concentrates on these areas that I struggle with.
One of my favorites! I use my inversion table a couple of times per week. Inverting will help to decompress and take the pressure off your spine. I often will be finished inverting and feel no pain at all.
Inverting works like traction, and takes the pressure off the discs. Inversion is also a great way to stretch muscles and improve circulation.
I like to oscillate up and down on my table. I will decline for about 30 seconds then return to a flat position parallel to the ground for 30 seconds. This action works like a pump and helps to provide blood flow to the damaged area, which can help with healing.
Low back stretcher
A cost-effective alternative to using an inversion table is a low back stretcher. The purpose of using a back stretcher is to decompress the spine. In other words, the stretcher allows the muscles in your back (that support the spine), to relax.
When the muscles relax, you give the spine a chance to elongate and decompress. Using a low back stretcher is a low-cost way some people find sciatica pain relief.
Word of caution
Talk to your doctor before you begin any kind of treatment plan for sciatica. You need to have a diagnosis and a plan of action. If you experience pain with any of these methods, please stop. I’ve had some painful experiences on an inversion table and did more harm than good before I knew how to use one properly.
Therefore, the best plan is to work with your doctor. These methods have worked for me and may or may not work for you. Everyone is different.
Conclusion: Best Treatment For Sciatica Pain
To conclude, I want to say that there are more methods in addition to these for treating sciatica. The reason I had injections on this list, is not because I had success, but I do know many people who have had success with injections. Some people swear by them.
I just really wanted to present options other than surgery here for ways of treating sciatica. If I could go back and do it all over, I would not have had surgery in 1999. That was the first time in my life that I had dealt with an injury like that, and I was not accustomed to dealing with the pain.
Granted I hobbled around for about six months with a herniated disc and sciatica pain, but I have dealt with worse in the years since that happened. Just because you have, surgery does not mean you are fixed forever.
I hope that my experience has shed some light on some of the best treatment for sciatica pain. I would love to get some feedback from you on your experience as well.
Have you had treatment for sciatica?
What methods have you found helpful for treating sciatica?
Please let me know if you have any questions or comments. I am not a doctor but have had a lot of experience in my life, and I hope I can help you out.