Although it’s critical for patients to obtain a specific, accurate diagnosis for your sciatica, there are some general rules of thumb that you can follow to help manage your symptoms and promote healing, even if you have yet to seek help from a healthcare provider.
First and foremost, assess what seems to aggravate the symptoms down the leg. Is it prolonged sitting? Bending forward? Laying flat on your back? Driving? Whatever it may be, whenever you are dealing with pain down the limbs, either radicular or referred, the primary goal is to promote ‘centralization’ of the symptoms, where limbs down the limbs disappear first and centralize towards the source in the buttock, pelvis or low-back. You can promote faster healing by reducing or avoiding positions of pain aggravation down the limb and maximize working and resting in positions of relief. Unfortunately this is challenging to do, which often leads to prolonged recovery times, but every little bit counts.
Early on when pain and immobility are significantly impacting your day to day, we need to think about pain, inflammation, and spasm control. This is best managed early with the application of ice in intervals on and off. Typically my recommendation for icing a low-back or buttock would be approximately 10-15 minutes of icing on and off as regularly as possible. There is no limit to how often you apply the ice – every time you apply it, you will get benefit. As pain becomes centralized and minimized, heat can be introduced to help now with tissue mobility and function. It’s also helpful to experiment with where you place the ice on your body, especially if you haven’t seen a healthcare professional yet to diagnose your condition. Referred or radicular pain traveling down the leg is almost always sourced to an injury in the low-back or buttock. If applying ice over the low-back doesn’t help reduce the pain in the limb, move it down over the respective buttock, or vice versa. As previously mentioned, the radicular or referred pain in the limb doesn’t always present with pain at the source.