Sciatica is pain caused by irritation or compression of the sciatic nerve. It usually affects only one part of the body but tends to be severe and debilitating.
The pain usually extends from the lower back to the rear of the thigh and down through the leg.
It can be accompanied by symptoms like burning or tingling down the leg, shooting pain that causes difficulty standing up or sitting down, and numbness and weakness down the affected leg and even in the toes.
Sciatica is most often caused by a herniated or slipped disc. It can also be caused by issues like a spinal injury or infection, degenerative disc disease, pregnancy, spinal stenosis, isthmic spondylolisthesis and piriformis syndrome.
Although there are many conventional treatments for sciatica, they may only ease the pain temporarily. Plus, most steroid injections can cause serious side effects.
You can use some home remedies and natural therapies as well to reduce inflammation and pressure on the irritated sciatic nerve. Plus, in most cases, the problem goes away with time (around 6 weeks) and rest.
Here are the top 10 home remedies for sciatica.
1. Hot or Cold Compresses
Using hot or cold compresses can help relieve sciatica pain and inflammation. Heat treatment relaxes tense muscles that may be compressing the sciatic nerve.
Cold treatment reduces swelling around the nerve and also numbs the pain.
You can also alternate heat and cold, starting with the hot compress and ending with the cold compress. When using heat, use moist heat like a steamed towel as it is more effective.
- Place a hot or cold pack on the affected area for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Do this every few hours until you get relief.
Note: Do not use cold compresses if you have circulatory problems.
Turmeric is another effective natural remedy for sciatica because of its anti-inflammatory properties. It contains a compound called curcumin that helps reduce nerve pain and inflammation.
- Add 1 teaspoon of turmeric to 1 cup of milk. You can also add a small cinnamon stick. Boil the solution. Sweeten this healthy drink with honey and drink it once or twice daily until you see improvement.
- Another option is to take 250 to 500 mg turmeric supplements 3 times a day for several weeks. Consult your doctor first.
Note: Turmeric may not be suitable for those taking blood thinners or diabetes medications. Those suffering from gallstones should also avoid it.
Massage therapy can relieve sciatica pain and also help the body heal itself, especially if the problem is caused by a muscle spasm.
Plus, it helps release tension, stimulate circulation and increase the range of motion.
- Massage the affected area with St. John’s wort oil 2 or 3 times a day until you get relief. St John’s wort has anti-inflammatory properties that help relieve sciatica pain and inflammation.
- Another option is to add 3 tablespoons of nutmeg powder to 1 cup of sesame oil. Heat the mixture. Allow it to cool and massage the affected area with it when it is comfortably warm. Do this a few times a day for a few weeks.
- You can also consider trigger-point massage therapy at least once daily. Pain in the lower back, buttocks and side of the thighs is often associated with trigger points in the gluteus medius and minimus muscles.
In addition to rest, maintaining normal activity is highly beneficial for dealing with sciatica.
A day or two after a sciatica flare up, you can start a regular exercise program to strengthen the abdominal and back muscles. Strengthening the core muscles helps facilitate quick recovery.
You can do Knee to Chest Stretch to help reduce the irritation of the sciatic nerve and improve flexibility of your lower back.
- Lie on your back on a mat with your feet straight and hip-width apart.
- Keep your upper body relaxed and bend your right knee upwards with an inhale.
- Clasp your hands behind the thigh and gently pull it towards your chest as far as is comfortable.
- Keep the other leg flat on the surface.
- Hold this position for 20 seconds with controlled deep breaths and then lower your leg gently.
- Switch legs and repeat.
- Repeat 3 to 5 times.
- Finally do this exercise with both the legs 3 to 5 times.
You can also do exercises like spinal rolling, knees rocking, floor twists, backblock, back extensions, sciatic-mobilizing stretches and certain yoga poses like the cat-cow pose and pigeon pose to help relieve sciatica and lower back pain. You can try spinal decompression exercises as well.
Note: Consult your doctor to help implement the right exercise program for your case.
5. Capsaicin Cream
Cayenne pepper contains an active ingredient called capsaicin that works as a natural pain reliever. It helps deplete the levels of a neurotransmitter called substance P, which transports pain signals.
- Buy a cream or ointment containing 0.025% to 0.075% capsaicin.
- Apply it on the affected area up to 4 times a day, at least for 1 week.
Note: Capsaicin cream or ointment may cause a burning sensation initially. Do not apply it on broken skin.
Valerian root works as a relaxant and relieves chronic nerve pain. It is particularly good for easing sciatica pain caused by a muscle spasm.
The herb contains volatile oils that help relax your muscles and ease tension. It is popularly used as a sleeping aid as well.
- Take 150 mg of valerian root supplement 3 times a day for a few weeks. Consult your doctor first.
- You can also drink valerian tea prepared by steeping 1 teaspoon of dried valerian root in 1 cup of hot water for 10 minutes. Drink this herbal tea several times a week for a few weeks.
7. White Willow Bark
White willow bark can also be used for long-lasting pain relief. It contains phenolic glycosides with salicin, providing anti-inflammatory and analgesic benefits.
Take a white willow bark supplement of 120 or 240 mg salicin daily for several weeks. Consult your doctor first.
8. Fenugreek Seeds
A poultice prepared from fenugreek seeds can also help reduce sciatica pain, thanks to its anti-inflammatory benefits. It also soothes rheumatoid arthritis and gout pains.
- Grind a handful of fenugreek seeds.
- Boil the powder with enough milk to get a mushy paste.
- Apply it on the aching area as a poultice.
- Leave it on for a few hours before rinsing it off.
- Repeat daily until you get relief.
Acupuncture is another effective natural treatment to relieve sciatica pain, relax the muscles and help your body heal itself.
Another theory is that by stimulating certain acupuncture points, the central nervous system is also stimulated, in turn triggering the release of chemicals that either change the perception of pain or produce a sense of well-being.
A 2009 study published in the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine found that warmed acupuncture with heated needles helped improve sciatica pain. In fact, 17 of the 30 participants got complete relief from sciatica after acupuncture therapy.
Always have acupuncture therapy performed by a skilled and experienced acupuncturist.
10. Spinal Manipulation
Chiropractic care is an increasingly popular natural treatment for neck and back pain. Chiropractic spinal manipulation includes different techniques involving rapid, short thrusts to alleviate nerve irritability responsible for inflammation and other symptoms associated with sciatica.
A 2010 study published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics found that spinal manipulation benefited 60% of the study participants suffering from sciatica to the same degree as a surgical intervention could have provided.
Consult a doctor of chiropractic medicine for proper treatment, depending on the exact cause of your sciatica pain.
- Do not make sudden movements.
- Adopt a good posture to relieve pressure on your lower back.
- Practice proper lifting techniques with your back straight and knees bent.
- Sleep on a mattress that is neither too firm nor too soft.
- Get regular exercise, but do not engage in intense exercise.
- Avoid cigarette smoking as it promotes disc degeneration.
- Try other herbal remedies, such as devil’s claw (1,500 to 2,000 mg twice daily). An alcohol-based extract prepared from the leaves of parijat, also called harshiangar (scientific name, Nyctanthes arbor tristis), has also been found useful in treating sciatica.These herbs have anti-inflammatory and tranquilizing properties. Devil’s claw may interfere with certain medications and may not be suitable for those suffering from peptic ulcers. Before taking an herbal remedy, check with your doctor for advice on dosage and suitability.
- Consider taking vitamin C, calcium and magnesium supplements after consulting your doctor.