For the 40% of people who’ve had sciatica, you know how the shooting pain that radiates from your back into your legs can disrupt life. And the risk of this injury, caused by excess pressure on the sciatic nerve, rises after age 50 due to weaker bones, nerves and muscles. While 90% of cases resolve on their own within six weeks, these tricks calm pain now.
Enjoy some window shopping. Strolling through the mall cuts pain by up to 50%, suggests research in The Spine Journal. Walking realigns the spine and loosens tight muscles in just 10 minutes. In fact, research in Clinical Rehabilitation found slow strolling to be as effective at eliminating back pain as some forms of in-office physical therapy.
Bonus: A Dutch study found regular daily movement resolves persistent sciatica as effectively as surgery.
Try the ‘fire and ice’ trick. Been let down by muscle relaxants? A study in BMJ found they don’t work for sciatica pain since they only block muscle spasms, not the underlying inflammation. What does work? Chilling then warming your pain point. Soothe new inflammation during the first 48 hours after a flare-up by icing your lumbar area for 15 minutes four times a day. From day three on, place a heating pad in the same spot, which boosts healing blood flow to the area. British research suggests the trick is three times more effective at offering relief than taking NSAIDs.
Do a ‘long leg’ stretch. Tight hamstrings pull the spine out of alignment, putting pressure on the sciatic nerve. To stretch these muscles, lie on your back with one knee bent. Keeping your hips on the ground, point the toe of the leg that’s flat and raise it up toward your head (hook a towel around your foot if needed). Hold for 10 seconds, then release and repeat on alternating legs for 3 minutes. Korean research found this cuts pain by 61%.