Is Heat Or Cold Therapy Better For Sciatica Pain
Dr. Bhavik Sheth, PT, DPT, CSCS, SFMA
Dr. Bhavik Sheth, PT, DPT, CSCS, SFMA is a physical therapist and the co-founder of the Elite Movement Initiative, a physical therapy group. He earned his D
Sciatica is a unique type of nerve pain that begins in the lower back and extends through the lower extremities.
People with sciatica often experience sharp low back, hip, and leg pain as well as burning sensations, tingling, numbness, and muscle weakness. This level of discomfort is alarming and calls for the assistance of an ice pack or warm towel, but which is actually fit to alleviate your pain?
In this article, we will discuss whether heat therapy, cold therapy, or a combination of both is best for sciatica.
Relief Strategy #: Go For A Walk
As much as you may want to hang out on the couch when the pain flares, resist the urge. Movement actually helps reduce inflammation in the area, says Dr. Dhanani. Brief walks a few times a day can help keep sciatica pain at bay.
In general, try to avoid long periods of sitting, she says. Your body was not designed to be in a sitting position for hours at a time. When you sit too much, the discs and ligaments of your lower back are forced to sustain the pressure.;
The next time youre watching TV, get up during the commercials to move around the house or do one of the core exercises above.;
Bulging Or Herniated Disc
A lumbar bulging or herniated disc is the most common cause of sciatic nerve pain. Research suggests that herniated discs are responsible for 90% of sciatica cases.;;
Intervertebral discs sit between vertebrae in the spine, providing support, cushioning and shock absorption. Each disc contains a soft, jelly-like nucleus surrounded by a tough outer shell. Age and natural wear and tear over time cause spinal discs to dry out, weaken and develop tiny tears. The supporting ligaments start to weaken as well, causing the disc to slip and bulge out of place. Eventually, pressure and degenerative changes can lead to the jelly-like nucleus leaking out of a tear in the outer shell a condition called a herniated disc. A herniated disc can also occur suddenly from a traumatic accident like a fall, car crash or sports accident.;
A disc thats bulging out of place can irritate, rub against or place pressure on nearby structures including the sciatic nerve. Similarly, pieces of a herniated disc can press against or compress the sciatic nerve root. And the jelly-like disc nucleus contains a chemical irritant that causes nerve inflammation when released into the spinal space.;
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How Does Heat Work
When we say heat, what we mean usually is a warm compress, hot water bottle or wheat cushion applied to an area of skin around an injury. You could also get these effects from a hot bath or shower, but this would be a less targeted way of treating an area.
Heat works roughly in the opposite way that ice works. It, too, has a number of effects to the body when applied around an injury:
- Heat causes an effect called vasodilation to the blood vessels around an area which means a widening of the vessels, increasing blood flow to an injured site. You wouldnt want to use heat on a recently sprained ankle
- Heat doesnt affect the nerves like ice does, but it does increase healthy blood flow to an area, which can cause an increased rate of healing to some injuries . It also helps to flush away the nasties within the blood that invade an injured area.
- Heat has an effect on the surrounding muscles and joints whereby it loosens them up by making the tissues more elastic and pliable. This basically means you can increase the flexibility of an area just by heating it up. Try to stretch a muscle in the cold, then try to stretch the same muscle after a hot shower youll find you can stretch way further after the hot treatment.
What Are The Symptoms Of Sciatica
The symptoms of sciatica include:
- Moderate to severe pain in lower back, buttock and down your leg.
- Numbness or weakness in your lower back, buttock, leg or feet.
- Pain that worsens with movement; loss of movement.
- Pins and needles feeling in your legs, toes or feet.
- Loss of bowel and bladder control .
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If You Answered With Stiffness In The Leg
Although this is a rarer complaint, if stiffness in the leg was someones main sciatica symptom, I would opt for applying heat to the affected buttock.
This would encourage better mobility for the sciatic nerve around the hip and allow greater movement of the leg.
To use this technique, follow this method:
- Start laying on your front on a bed or mat . Never sit on a hot water bottle
- Take a hot water bottle
- Apply it immediately to your affected buttock
- Keep it there for 15 minutes, then remove
- Allow the skin to cool to a natural temperature, then repeat the process
- Always look out for any signs of heat burn on your skin and remove immediately if you see or feel anything.
Relief Strategy #: Take A Stretch Break
Tight muscles can also aggravate the sciatic nerve, says Dr. Dhanani. Doing a few targeted stretches can help open up the muscles surrounding the nerve, in turn relieving some of the pressure.
Two stretches to try:
Knee to Chest: Lie on the floor, either with your legs straight or with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, whichever is more comfortable. Raise one knee toward your chest until you feel a gentle stretch in the back of your hip. You can place your hands on top of your knee or behind your thigh. Hold in this position for 30 seconds. Release, switch legs and repeat.
Seated Figure 4: Sit tall in a chair and cross one leg on top of the other, placing your ankle over the opposite knee. Place your hand on the knee of the crossed leg. Lean forward, keeping your back straight, and gently press on the crossed knee until you feel a stretch in your hips and butt. Hold for 30 seconds. Release, switch legs and repeat.
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Sciatica Home Remedies And Self
Regardless of the cause, about 90% of people with sciatica will get better without surgerymost of them in just a few weeks. You can start treating your sciatica at home. In fact, home treatment may be all you need, especially if you know that your sciatica is caused by an injury or pregnancy.
Even if you dont know whats causing your sciatica, you can take steps to relieve your pain at home. Call your doctor if the pain isnt manageable or under certain other circumstances.
Types Of Heat Therapy Application
There are two types; moist heat and dry heat.
Moist heat: You can get moist heat from steamed towels, hot baths, and moist heating packs.
Dry heat: this may remove moisture from your body and dehydrate your skin. Dry heat can come from electric heating pads and saunas.
The choice for any of the two heat therapy types can differ from person to person. To ascertain the right type for yourself, you will need to experiment and pick the one that best suits you.
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How Do I Relieve Sciatic Pain
People suffering with know just how painful the condition can be. The back pain caused from the inflamed sciatic nerve can be excruciating at times. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to ease sciatic pain and make it possible to continue enjoying many daily activities.
Before attempting to use any type of home remedy for sciatic pain, it is important to consult with a physician. Your doctor can determine if there are any properties associated with the home remedy that could interfere with any medication you are taking. Along with decreasing the efficacy of your medications, some of the products used in home remedies may actually trigger an adverse reaction when combined with prescription medication. Never take anything before speaking with your doctor about possible side effects or negative interactions.
One method of easing sciatic pain that works for many people is the application of cold packs to help calm flare-ups of nerve pain. To make a simple home ice pack, place crushed ice in a sealable plastic bag, then wrap in a hand towel. You can also use bags of frozen vegetables if necessary. Apply the cold for at least twenty minutes. Repeat throughout the day as needed.
Is Bed Rest Good For A Pinched Nerve
If your pain is severe, one or two days of bed rest is fine, but prolonged rest may worsen sciatica. Muscle stiffness and weakness often accompany sciatic pain, and immobility will only intensify these symptoms. Getting in some low-impact exercise as soon as you feel ready will loosen and strengthen the affected muscles and aid your recovery, says Dr. Bhavik Sheth, Physical Therapist.
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Types Of Heating Pads
Different heating pads are available for back pain. This includes a standard electric heating pad that offers multiple heat settings.
Theres also the option of an infrared heating pad. This is helpful for moderate to severe pain since the heat penetrates deeper into the muscles.
When shopping for a heating pad, look for one that has an automatic shut-off feature to prevent overheating and burns, in case you fall asleep on the pad.
You can find electric heat pads at your local pharmacy or shop for one online.
Sciatica Exercises To Do At Home
When coming into our office isnt possible, or you need sciatica pain relief immediately, make use of these sciatica exercises to do at home. The only equipment these at-home sciatica exercises require is a foam roller and a lacrosse ball.
If youre currently experiencing sciatica pain, give these 4 sciatica exercises to do at home at try. We think youll be pleasantly surprised at how well they can relieve sciatica pain quickly and easily. If your sciatica pain continues, give us a call or so we can get you feeling better faster.
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Benefits Of Heat Therapy For Back Pain
Heat therapy is an effective remedy for back pain because it boosts circulation, which then allows nutrients and oxygen to travel to joints and muscles. This circulation helps repair damaged muscles, relieves inflammation, and improves back stiffness.
Any type of heat therapy can help relieve back pain. Yet, heating pads are ideal because theyre convenient and portable. Theyre also electric, so you can use them anywhere in your home, such as lying in bed or sitting on the couch.
Hot or warm baths provide moist heat, which also promote circulation and reduce muscle pain and stiffness. A bath might work better if you have pain or stiffness in other parts of your body, too.
The problem with baths, though, is that its difficult to maintain the water temperature. That water will slowly cool down.
On the other hand, heating pads have adjustable levels and provide a continuous flow of heat for as long as the pad is turned on.
If you dont have a heating pad, taking a warm shower or relaxing in a hot tub may also relieve back pain and stiffness. One benefit of a hot tub and shower over a bath is continuous heat similar to a heating pad.
Electric heating pads can get hot quickly and injure the skin, so its important to use them correctly.
Heat Therapy Encourages Healing In Sciatica
- Causes your blood vessels to dilate and supply more blood, oxygen, and nutrientspromoting healing
- Reduces the tightness in painful muscles and increases the range of motion of your lower back
Heat therapy helps break the pain-spasm-pain cycle, where pain causes your muscles to spasm as a protective response, and those spasms, in turn, cause more pain.4
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When Should Someone Seek Medical Care For Sciatica
- The pain is not improving after several days or seems to be getting worse.
- If the affected person is younger than 20 years of age or older than 55 years of age and is having sciatica for the first time
- The affected individual presently has cancer or has a history of cancer.
- The affected individual has lost a large amount of weight recently or has unexplained chills and fever with back pain.
- The affected individual is HIV positive or uses IV drugs.
- Someone has trouble bending forward after more than a week or two.
- The affected individual notices weakness is getting more pronounced over time.
Go to a hospital’s emergency department if any of the following occur along with sciatica.
- The pain is unbearable, despite trying first aid methods.
- The pain follows a violent injury, such as a fall from a ladder or an automobile crash.
- The pain is in the back of the chest.
- The affected individual is unable to move or feel his or her legs or feet.
- The affected individual loses control of his or her bowels or bladder or has numbness in his or her genitals. These may be symptoms of cauda equina syndrome .
- The affected individual has a high temperature .
Pure Enrichment Electric Heating Pad
The Pure Enrichment heating pad is a close second in the list, but only because it does not have a lifetime warranty in place. The pad has a nice micro plush exterior and a polyester bottom exterior for a smooth and comfortable sensation on the skin. It comes in a fairly large size .
The pad has super-fast heating, modulated by 6 heat settings as compared to the Might Blisss 4 heat settings. It also has a moist heating option like the might bliss.
- Super-fast heating with 6 heat settings
- Microplush exterior and polyester bottom
- Moist heating setting
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Relief Strategy #: Go Cold Then Hot
During a flare-up, applying ice packs and/or heat can help bring on-the-spot relief, according to the Cleveland Clinic. At the first jab of pain, reach for a bag of frozen vegetables or an ice pack. Wrap it in a towel and place it over the area for 20 minutes to ease the pain and inflammation. Do this every two hours.
If the cold isnt bringing you the relief you were hoping for, try a heating pad or hot compress. Again, keep it on the affected area for 20 minutes every two hours. Some people also find relief by alternating between cold and heat.;
How To Apply Cold Therapy
Cold treatments are most effective when applied to the back of the pelvis where your sciatic nerve is located. Cold therapy can be practiced using ice packs, frozen gel packs, or even frozen vegetable bags. These treatments should be used three times a day for 15 to 20 minutes.
Patients with wide areas of pain, such as the back, find ice massage to be especially beneficial. Ice massage can be done at home. Simply freeze water in a paper cup, then cut off the top half of the cup to uncover the ice. Next, have a partner rub the ice in circular motions on painful areas for a few minutes or until it becomes numb.
After a few days, a majority of your pain and inflammation should subside and you can begin heat treatment.
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Difficulty Or Impaired Leg Mobility
Individuals with sciatica may find it difficult to walk, stand or sit in due to the pain and other neurological manifestations of sciatica such as weakness or numbness of the lower extremities.
The signs and symptoms listed above may manifest for a couple of weeks or may last for many years. However, it is essential to note that not everyone will experience the same sciatica symptoms because causes of sciatica may differ from one person to another.
Cycling With Sciatica: Chiropractor’s Tips To Ease Pain
Cyclists need to watch out for a variety of injuries, especially sciatica. This irritating condition alters your sciatic nerve causing it to send tingling sensations throughout your lower back. If not treated, it could lead to chronic muscle weakness, especially in your legs. Below youll find more information about sciatica and a handful of ways you can ease the pain.
Cycling with sciatica is no fun but there are ways to overcome discomfort