There is back pain, and then there’s sciatic nerve pain.
They say no pain is ever the same, but all have the potential to derail your daily activities, or worse, ruin your day. Sciatic nerve pain ticks both boxes with its accompanying discomfort extending from your lower back towards a good portion of your lower body, including your feet.
If you’re raring to get back on your feet, use gel packs for immediate therapeutic relief. Read this article to discover how and where to start with them.
Where is the sciatic nerve located?
The sciatic nerve starts at the lower spine and runs through the hips, buttocks, legs and feet. It branches into the different parts of the lower body, making it the longest and widest nerve network in the human body.
What are the functions of the sciatic nerve?
The sciatic nerve has both essential sensory and motor functions. It provides sensations to the skin of the thighs, lower leg, feet and even the toes. That’s why when the sciatic nerve is irritated or inflamed, a burning or tingling sensation, as well as numbness, ensues.
As part of its motor functions, sciatic nerves allow for various movements in your lower body: knee bending (flexion), hip bending (adduction) or leg movement toward the body, plantar flexion (pointing the foot downward), toe flexion, upward pointing of the foot (dorsiflexion) and upward pointing of the toes.
What is sciatica?
Sciatica is an all-encompassing term for the pain felt along the sciatic nerve. The discomfort is caused by pressure on, or damage to, any part of the sciatic nerve pathway.
What are the causes of sciatica?
The most common cause of sciatic nerve pain is a herniated disc in the spinal column, accounting for about 90 percent of the cases.
Our vertebrae, the bones that make up the spine, are cushioned by discs of connective tissue. When these get worn out because of an acute injury, overuse or other conditions, the sciatic nerves can get compressed, leading to pain.
Apart from a ruptured disc, the following conditions could trigger sciatic nerve pain:
- Bone spurs — Also known as osteophytes, some bone spurs develop in the nerve root openings, causing painful, pinched nerves.
- Lumbar degenerative disc disease — This is a degenerative disc disease that causes wear and tear on the spinal discs.
- Piriformis syndrome — This is a rare form of neuromuscular disorder where the muscle that connects your spine to your thigh bone, involuntarily contracts.
- Spinal stenosis — This is the abnormal narrowing of the spinal canal.
- Spondylolisthesis — This occurs when a spinal bone extends forward over another.
- Spinal tumors — This is when an abnormal mass of cancerous or non-cancerous tissue that surrounds the spinal cord or spinal column.
Some of these conditions are serious and warrant medical intervention. A trip to your doctor is highly recommended if you suffer from severe and worsening pain.
How does having sciatica feel like?
Depending on the underlying cause, symptoms may vary from one person to another. Even the intensity of discomfort varies from mild and irritating, to severe and disabling.
As with other symptoms or conditions, only a doctor can formally diagnose sciatica. However, it helps to know these common signs:
- Pain — A burning pain in the lower back, hip or a constant pain on one side of your buttocks that extends to your thighs and feet are the hallmark symptoms of sciatica.
- Numbness — A tingling sensation and weakness in the back of the leg or difficulty moving the foot may also indicate that you have this nerve issue.
- Limited range of movement — Any problem with the sciatic nerve causes reduced mobility and leg weakness among sufferers, making simple activities like sitting and lying down painful.
Are there natural remedies for sciatica?
Yes, and in fact, most sufferers rely on home remedies to ease sciatic nerve pain and its other accompanying symptoms.
For instance, in addressing pain and helping prevent the recurrence of pinched nerves, yoga stretches and light exercises can do the trick. These activities strengthen your back muscles, making them more resilient to the wearing and tearing of the spine. Keeping yourself active can also prevent obesity, one of the risk factors for sciatic nerve pain.
Alternative methods like meditation, which helps manage pain perception, and acupuncture, which stimulates the body’s healing response, may likewise offer relief from inflammation and discomfort.
Herbal medications loaded with anti-inflammatory nutrients such as turmeric, garlic, arnica, Devil’s claw and St. John’s wort could ease the symptoms, but more studies are needed to validate their efficacy.
If you want the safest and fastest pain relief for sciatica, hot and cold gel packs are your best bet.
How do you use cold and warm gel packs to help ease sciatica?
When applied to an affected area, heat therapy eases sciatica by reducing muscle tension and spasms that cause soreness. A warm heat pack encourages blood, oxygen and nutrients to rush to the affected area, accelerating the healing process.
Heat eases muscle tightness and sciatic nerve compression, resulting in improved mobility and range of motion.
On the other hand, cold therapy helps resolve sciatica pain and inflammation by slowing down the nerves that send pain signals to your brain. As an analgesic, it creates a numbing effect as it cools your muscle fibers, reducing muscle spasms that cause discomfort.
As a vasoconstrictor, it narrows blood vessels and decreases blood flow, preventing swelling and reducing inflammation.
How do you apply heat and cold therapy to relieve sciatica?
In most cases, alternating the use of hot and cold therapy is the best method. As sciatic pain is accompanied by inflammation, start with cold therapy. Once the pain and swelling subside, you may apply heat therapy to relax stiff back muscles and soothe them.
Where should you place an ice pack for sciatica?
At the onset of sciatica pain, wrap an ice pack and place it on the affected area for up to 15 minutes. If your skin begins to feel numb, remove the ice pack immediately.
For lower back, pelvic, thigh and leg pain
With sciatic nerve pain covering a large area of the body, we highly recommend using this extra large multi-purpose ice pack that’s big on pain relief.
All you have to do is lay on your belly and place the pack on your back to cover your tailbone, pelvic area and thighs. This oversized pain reliever remains flexible and soft straight from the freezer, so you can also lay on it after putting a towel or a cloth above it.
In some cases, your discomfort may be focused on a specific sciatic nerve pathway, hence, a targeted pain relief is better.
For lower back and pelvic pain
This lower back gel pack provides warm or cold compression to the roots of your sciatic nerves, addressing pain from its origins and allowing for better pain control. The pack also covers the rear pelvis, calming your nerves and providing quick and soothing therapeutic relief from sciatica, especially when used warm.
For leg and lower back pains
If you’re bothered by discomfort in your lower back and upper leg, try this durable and snug-fitting hip ice pack. It covers your buttocks to relieve the sciatic nerves along the hip, too.
Reminders in using ice or heat packs
- Do not apply ice packs for more than 20 minutes.
- To further prevent an ice burn, cover the ice pack with a cloth or towel before placing it on your bare skin.
- Never sleep on an ice or heat pack.
- In alternating heat and cold therapy, apply an ice pack to the affected area for 15 minutes once every hour. Apply heat for 15 minutes every two or three hours.
Additional tips for sciatica pain management
For sciatica pain that peaks in the morning, use a warm pack as soon as you wake up to improve blood circulation and to arrest flare-ups. After using a warm pack, perform simple stretches to further prevent nerve compression from ruining your day.
Warm and cold gel packs provide fast and reliable pain relief to sciatica pain sufferers. To maximize its efficacy for inflammation and pain control, it helps to know whether to use a warm or cold gel pack and where to apply it depending on your condition.
Do you have additional tips about managing sciatica pain? Don’t hesitate to hit us up if you want to share something or want to know more about gel pack use.