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- article submitted by independent contributor

Sciatica exercises and other self-treatment techniques are often just as effective, and maybe more effective in some cases, than professional methods of treatment.   This is particularly true when it comes to getting lasting relief, because most doctor-administered treatments only mask symptoms and do not address the underlying causes of sciatica, namely spinal disc protrusion and/or muscle contraction. 

The symptoms of sciatica are pain, tingling, burning, and other sensations that extend from the buttock area down the back of the thigh, and sometimes all the way down the calf to the foot.  True sciatica is related to compression and irritation of the sciatic nerve, most often by a bulging or ruptured spinal disc in the lower back. 

Another condition that closely mimics the symptoms of true sciatica is piriformis syndrome, caused by the piriformis muscle in the lower buttock area.  Piriformis syndrome is also sometimes called “pseudo-sciatica”, meaning “false sciatica”.  Depending on the situation contraction of the piriformis muscle may actually compress the sciatic nerve, or the muscle produces what’s known as referred pain.  Referred pain is what happens when someone gets arm pain from a heart problem, or shoulder pain from a gallbladder attack. 

Both true sciatica and piriformis syndrome can usually be treated effectively with simple exercises and home-treatment methods.  One of the simplest sets of exercises for alleviating true sciatica is the McKenzie Method, named for New Zealand physical therapist Robin McKenzie.  Although the McKenzie Method is usually associated with spinal extension, in fact the technique uses a systematic approach to determine what spinal positioning is most effective at reducing nerve compression by a herniated disc for a given individual.  The majority of cases d respond best to some variation of spinal extension, but not all McKenzie exercises involve extension – it depends on what the evaluation techniques suggest will be most effective. 

For piriformis syndrome, home treatment can best be accomplished by means of stretching and massage of the piriformis muscle.  One simple stretch can be done by bending the leg and pulling the knee toward the chest, then carefully stretching the knee towards the opposite side shoulder.  Stretching should be done slowly and with steady pressure, rather than “bouncing” the stretch which may actually increase muscle contraction.  Massage of the piriformis can be done by finding the area of tightness in the lower buttock area and pressing one’s knuckles into the contracted area with firm pressure, gradually increasing pressure as the tenderness decreases and the muscle relaxes.

 In addition to exercises, one of the best sciatica self treatment methods is the application of ice packs.  Cold packs are often more effective in reducing inflammation than prescription anti-inflammatory drugs, and work without the side effects commonly encountered with the medications.  To use ice, be sure to separate the cold pack from the skin with a thin towel or cloth to prevent skin irritation.  Because sciatica typically arises from nerve irritation in the lower spine, apply the ice pack on the low back, being sure to cover the area at least an inch below the beltline.  Use cold for about 15 to 20 minutes at a time.  You can re-apply ice as often as every one to two hours, just as long as the skin has returned to normal temperature before re-applying the cold pack. 

For additional sciatica information, please visit my SciaticaSelfCare.com website.  When you visit, you’ll receive a free ebook on home treatment tips, and a free video course to help you etter understand your condition and treatment options.

Dr. George Best is a holistic healthcare provider in San Antonio, Texas, and webmaster of SciaticaSelfCare.com. 

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