How to Ease Sciatica

Updated March 23, 2017

Pain that radiates along the sciatic nerve is called sciatica. The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body; it begins at the spine and travels down the buttocks and down the back of each leg. Sciatica has many causes, including herniated discs, degenerative arthritis, vascular problems and injury, according to the American Medical Association. Most people recover from sciatica within a few weeks without treatment, but you can take steps to ease the pain in the meantime.

Rest as much as possible for the first few days of symptoms to allow the inflammation to go down.

The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) recommends trying an anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen to relieve pain and inflammation.

Apply a cold compress at the first sign of symptoms to decrease pain and reduce inflammation of the sciatic nerve. The Mayo Clinic recommends wrapping an ice pack in a towel and applying it to the painful area for 15 to 20 minutes several times a day.

Try applying heat to painful spots. Alternating between a heating pad and a cold compress can help relieve pain after you have had symptoms for a couple of days.

Be active as soon as you can. Stretching, walking and other low-impact physical activities are good choices. Avoid activities that require twisting or bouncing.

See your doctor if your symptoms do not improve. Prescription medications, physiotherapy, steroid injections and surgery are treatment options for people with severe sciatica.


When your condition begins to improve, consider beginning an exercise routine that includes aerobic activity and strength training, which may reduce the risk of back problems, according to the Mayo Clinic.


Seek immediate medical attention if you have nerve pressure that causes you to lose bladder or bowel control or if you experience numbness and tingling in the genital area. This is a sign of a herniated disk that requires immediate surgery, according to the AAOS. Talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise program, and be sure to perform exercises correctly to prevent injury.

Things You'll Need

  • Ice pack
  • Towel
  • Heating pad
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About the Author

Shannon Cotton is a freelance writer covering a variety of topics, including parenting, health and lifestyle. After nine years of writing for a weekly newspaper, she took her love of writing to the Web. Cotton attended Tarleton State University and received her bachelor’s degree in 2003.