What helps with a painful sciatic nerve

What helps with a painful sciatic nerve What helps with a painful sciatic nerve

A pinched or inflamed sciatic nerve can cause severe pain. We explain when to see a doctor and why it’s important after treatment to protect your back and train your core muscles.

Where the sciatic nerve is located in the body

The sciatic nerve, also known in the profession as nervus ischiadicus, is the longest and thickest nerve in the human body. It originates in the spinal cord and extends over the buttocks and legs down to the feet.

Why the sciatic nerve can be painful

The pain is a nerve pain, also known as sciatica or sciatic pain.

Possible causes of sciatica

  • a slipped disc pressing on the sciatic nerve, which is a common occurrence
  • a particularly tense piriformis muscle in the buttocks
  • narrowing of the spinal canal
  • inflamed nerves or other inflammatory processes
  • a tumour in the spine, although this is seldom the case
A patient suffering from a pinched, injured or inflamed sciatic nerve is in severe pain.
Stefan Hummler, specialist in rheumatology, physical medicine and rehabilitation at the Hirslanden Klinik St. Anna located in the Lucerne railway station

Typical sciatica symptoms

  • Pain that extends from the lower back through the buttocks to the leg, even as far as the toes. Usually only one leg is affected.
  • Pain that increases under strain, for example when lifting a heavy object, and sometimes when coughing, sneezing or pressing.
  • Pain that is accompanied by sensory disturbances such as tingling, burning or numbness, or signs of paralysis in individual muscle groups in the leg.

What is important with sciatica treatment

If the sciatica is severe and lasts for a longer period, a medical check is advisable. At the examination, the doctor will check the patient’s level of mobility and sensory responses. Methods for this include the Lasègue test: while the patient is lying, the doctor slowly lifts the stretched leg. With a damaged sciatic nerve, this movement will cause the patient to experience typical symptoms when the leg reaches an angle of around 45 degrees.

Ease the sciatic nerve and relieve pain

It's usually tense muscles, hardened muscles or malpositions that trigger sciatic pain. In order to quickly relieve acute pain and restore normal mobility, doctors use anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving medication, which can also be injected, depending on the severity of the symptoms. In addition, warm compresses or massages can help.

Which sciatica exercises are useful

Generally the pain fully disappears: at the quickest after a few days, at the longest after a few weeks. Once the painful phase has passed, active prevention is important in order to lower the risk of recurrence. For this, it’s a good idea to take a back training course. Physiotherapists can teach you how to exert as little strain as possible on your back when lifting objects and to avoid incorrect posture when sitting. At the same time, it's particularly important to strengthen the body’s core muscles.

Stretching the gluteal muscles

This exercise stretches the muscle group that often tenses up with sciatic pain: the gluteal muscles.

  1. In a lying position, bend the right leg.
  2. Bend the left leg and place it on the right knee. The left ankle joint lies on the right knee.
  3. If you feel a stretch in this position, maintain the pose as it is.
  4. To further increase the stretch intensity, press lightly against the left knee with your left hand.
  5. Hold the position for 20 breaths and ideally repeat 2-3 times per side.

Stretching the gluteal muscles creates space and can ease pain around the sciatic nerve.

To increase the stretch, grasp the right thigh with both hands and pull it towards the chest.

Self-massage with a ball

This exercise will enable you to massage any muscle tension in your buttocks yourself.

  1. Lie on your back on the floor.
  2. Place a ball (such as a tennis or fascia ball) under the upper half of the buttocks.
  3. Place some of your weight on the ball and slowly roll the ball along the buttocks.
  4. Carefully massage each painful point with small rolling movements until the tension eases.

Self-massage with a ball eases tense buttock muscles. Important: if the pain is severe, reduce the pressure.

Be aware of the following:

  • Ensure that any pain remains at a tolerable level.
  • Discontinue the massage if you feel a strong, stabbing pain.
  • Massage only briefly to start with, and with little pressure. After a time, you'll develop a feel for how much pressure benefits you.

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