Pain from sciatica can have a big impact on your quality of life. Up to 40% of people are affected, many of whom seek immediate relief for sciatica symptoms, including shooting pains in the leg, hip pain, and tingling from your lower back to your feet . Sometimes, sciatica pain can be so bad you can’t walk.
But is it realistic to expect immediate relief from sciatica pain? Unfortunately, most sciatica treatments take a little while to kick in and offer substantial pain relief. But with patience, there are ways to alleviate your sciatica relatively quickly.
Can you get immediate relief for sciatica pain?
It’s not usually possible to get instant relief for sciatica pain. According to one study, popular sciatica treatments like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids, antidepressants, and opioid painkillers don’t offer pain relief in the immediate term .
But there’s still a place for many of these treatments in the everyday management of sciatica symptoms. Plus, certain exercises and activities can give you quick (if temporary) sciatica relief.
5 fastest ways to get sciatica pain relief at home
Encourage your sciatic nerve to stop hurting quickly with these five home treatments for sciatica. For more ideas, take a look at how to get sciatica relief in eight minutes.
1. Sciatica relief exercises
Specific exercises designed to relieve pressure on the sciatic nerve can help you find fast, temporary relief from sciatica pain. Here are a few of the fastest-acting exercises for sciatica (in increasing levels of intensity).
Sit on a chair with your affected leg outstretched in front of you, your ankle balanced on another chair of the same height. Keep your back straight as you flex your toes, ankle and neck forward as far as is comfortable.
Hold for five to ten seconds, then dorsiflex your neck and ankle backwards as far as is comfortable. Again, hold for five to ten seconds. Repeat several times.
Perform the nerve flossing technique as above, though keep your neck in line with your spine this time. As you flex your foot forward, bend forward at the hip (avoid hunching over or craning your neck; your posture should remain intact as you hinge at the pelvis).
As you dorsiflex your foot backwards, return to your original seated position. Move slowly with control, and only move as far as is comfortable.
Lie on your front on the floor or bed with your upper body propped up on your forearms and your fists clasped together. You’ll feel a slight stretch in your lower back. Hold this position for up to a minute. (Don’t worry if you can only manage ten to 15 seconds initially; rest your chin on your knuckles whenever you need a break).
If necessary, support your chest with a pillow while you build up to the full press-up. You’ll know if your sciatica is improving if the pain recedes from your legs up to your lower back.
When the McKenzie press-up becomes comfortable for longer periods, push yourself up onto your hands, extending the stretch and releasing tension in the lower back. Keep your pelvis as flat as possible.
Allow your elbows to bend as much as needed while you adjust to this new cobra position. Gradually decrease the angle of your elbow as the tension is released.
Not all these exercises are suitable for everyone. If you have sciatica in pregnancy, for example, speak to your midwife or physiotherapist about appropriate sciatica exercises. If you are looking for more sciatica targeted stretches and movements to try, check out these NHS-recommended exercises to help treat sciatica.
2. Take it easy
Rest can help with sciatica symptoms in the short-term, though it’s not recommended as a long-term fix . That’s because underusing your muscles and joints can exacerbate weakness and allow your joints to stiffen up.
However, if your sciatica has flared up due to a long walk or hard exercise, it’s best to rest for a while to allow your sciatic nerve to decompress. Find out the best positions to sleep or rest in our tips on how to sleep with sciatica plus some tips for how to relieve sciatica pain in bed.
There’s limited evidence to suggest that over-the-counter NSAIDs like ibuprofen can help with sciatica pain . But some prescription drugs like corticosteroids and anticonvulsants may offer some short-term relief .
What is the best painkiller for sciatica?
Not all researchers agree that the studied medications (NSAIDs, opioids, antiepileptic drugs, and benzodiazepine sedatives) are suitable for treating sciatica . However, some evidence suggests that corticosteroids and a specific antiepileptic drug (gabapentin) may offer short-term relief for chronic sciatica . Amitriptyline can also be used to treat sciatic pain.
4. Cold compress
A cold compress can offer immediate relief for sciatica pain, though this will likely last only as long as the compress is applied .
Place an ice pack wrapped in a towel on your lower back to reduce inflammation around the sciatic nerve . Leave it on the area for up to 20 minutes at a time. Between applications, allow the back to warm up, then try some of the exercises above to alleviate tension around the nerve.
5. Hot compress
If your sciatica symptoms have started to improve after a week or so, use a warm compress to speed up healing . Heat can improve blood flow to the tissue around the nerve and promote muscle relaxation, allowing you to mobilise your hip and leg more easily.
Apply a heat pack or hot water bottle to the lower back for up to two hours at a time. Be careful not to let the compress burn your skin. A warm bath can also offer similar sciatica healing benefits.
5 more ways to get rapid sciatica relief
If your sciatica pain is chronic or severe, you may need to turn to medical or alternative therapies for pain relief. These sciatica treatment options are designed to promote faster recovery.
6. Steroid injections
Steroid injections are a way of administering corticosteroids directly to the spine in order to reduce inflammation around the sciatic nerve. Sciatica is often caused by a herniated disc, which can be effectively treated with lumbar epidural steroid injections .
Not everyone can get cortisone steroid injections on the NHS. So you may need to access private healthcare for this treatment. At Harley Street Specialist Hospital, we work with the UK’s biggest pool of pain management consultants to ensure all our patients get the dedicated care they need.
Learn more about what a hospital will do for sciatic pain.
Acupuncture for sciatica is an alternative therapy that has promising signs for treating sciatica pain. One study found a ten-day course of acupuncture relieved symptoms more effectively than certain NSAIDs . It can also increase your pain threshold, making it easier to cope with sciatica discomfort.
Further studies have hypothesised that acupuncture can provide immediate sciatica relief, though the results haven’t yet been published .
8. Sciatica relief massage
Certain sciatica massage techniques can relieve pressure on the sciatic nerve, helping to alleviate pain through your lower back, buttocks, hips, and legs . This can increase your range of motion, improving circulation and helping you get back to your daily activities.
It normally takes several massage sessions to see sustained improvement, and more intense massage may cause symptoms to flare-up again temporarily. So it’s important to seek advice from a qualified massage therapist who specialises in treating sciatica so you understand how certain massage techniques will affect your recovery.
9. Diagnostic imaging
Diagnostic imaging isn’t a sciatica treatment per se, but it’s one of the best ways to reveal the underlying cause of sciatica if it’s not immediately clear where the nerve is trapped .
Imaging tests like CT scans and X-rays may be recommended if you have long-term or severe sciatica symptoms. Pinpointing the location of the sciatic nerve entrapment or compression can make it easier for your doctor to recommend specific treatments to relieve your sciatica pain.
10. Get active
While rest can offer instant sciatica relief in the short-term, after a few days it’s better to get up and about if you can. The benefits of staying active throughout a bout of sciatica include:
- Increased circulation — Increasing blood flow through the lower areas of your body can promote healing.
- Improved mental health — Staying active can help you feel more positive, making it easier to cope with your sciatica pain.
- Better joint mobility — Prevent your joints from becoming stiff with regular low-impact exercise such as walking or swimming. Learn more about if swimming is good for sciatica.
If you’re not sure where to start with exercises for sciatica, seek the support of a qualified physiotherapist who specialises in sciatic pain.
Find the right support for your sciatica treatment
Dealing with sciatica on your own isn’t easy. Chronic sciatica can take a toll on your mental health as well as your physical health, so it’s important to seek support for all aspects of your condition.
At Harley Street Specialist Hospital, you can get advice, support, and treatment from some of the UK’s most prominent sciatica specialists. Best of all, we can often assess and treat you on the same day, giving you rapid, effective sciatica relief. Book an appointment to get fast private sciatica care.