When the terms ‘pain in my rear’ was coined, they must have been talking about the sciatic nerve. Running from the lower back all the way down to the lower limb, the sciatic nerve is the widest and longest single nerve in the human body.
It’s responsible for nearly all the nervous system connections in your leg’s skin and rear thigh muscles. Unfortunately, with large nerves comes serious pain and complications.
In general, 5-10% of people with lower back pain suffer from sciatica pain. Sciatica can be described as a pain in the lower extremity due to irritation of the sciatic nerve. The condition is typically characterized by extreme discomfort in the lumbar region with pain radiating below the thigh and behind the knee.
Researchers estimate that as many as 40% of the adult population will get it during their lifetime. A leading cause of lower back pain, sciatica is more prevalent in the age group of 45 to 64 years and the risk factors increase with height, smoking, mental stress and strenuous physical activity.
Even though the pain may have a sudden onset, the condition itself is not always a result of an injury or a specific event. In fact, sciatica usually develops over time and is often the result of another health issue. Sciatica pain can vary from constant, dull and irritating to shooting, sharp and debilitating. However, regardless of the intensity of the pain, in the majority of cases, sciatica responds well to non-surgical treatments.
What Is Sciatica?
Sciatica pain is a result of the irritation of the sciatic nerve, which as we’ve noted above is the largest and longest spinal nerve in the human body. It extends from the lumbar spine all the way down to your feet. So, if this nerve gets inflamed or irritated, the pain is not just restricted to the lower back, but can also cause pain in the feet.
In fact, this is one of the hallmarks of sciatica pain. It starts as an ache in the lower back but radiates down to the buttocks and into one or both legs. Most people who suffer from sciatica claim that the leg pain is worse and often more intense and debilitating than the back pain.
Sciatica is not an ailment in itself, but rather a symptom of an underlying problem. The sciatic nerve can get inflamed when stressed or pinched. This can happen if you have a desk job that entails long hours of sitting in your chair or due to long hours of driving or due to obesity or due to a sedentary lifestyle.
An injury or fall that impacts the lumbar spine can also be the cause of sciatica. About 90% of all sciatica cases are as a result of a bone spur or herniated disk compressing a part of the nerve. Medical professionals can trace the type of sciatic pain you have depending on your symptoms.
Sciatic pain can also be a result of a spinal stenosis, a degenerative disease of the disc or spondylolisthesis or piriformis. Although it is rare for the condition to cause permanent damage to the sciatic nerve or the spinal cord, at its worse, the pain can be debilitating.
What Causes Sciatic Pain?
The causes and risk factors of sciatica include:
Spinal disk herniation
This is the most common cause of sciatica found in over 90% of all patients. It occurs when a spinal disk presses onto the sacral or lumbar nerve. The risk factors for this include aging which changes the spine as well as obesity which increases the pressure and stress on the spine.
If your job requires you to carry heavy loads or twist your back, it might play a role in developing sciatica. Likewise, people who drive cars everyday for long distances or sit behind a desk for prolonged periods are also more likely to develop sciatica.
Diabetes affects the way your body makes use of blood sugar. People with diabetes are more at risk of getting nerve damage, including in the sciatic nerve.
Due to the extra weight of the fetus pressing down on the sciatic nerve, pregnant women are at risk of developing sciatica. The numbing feeling in the legs can cause loss of balance leading to dangerous falls.
Types Of Sciatica And Their Symptoms
Let’s explore the origin of the irritated/injured nerve:
Sciatica from the S1 Nerve Root
This type of Sciatica originates at the S1-L5 level at the bottom of the spine. It is characterized by numbness or pain to the outside region of the feet, especially when walking.
L4-L5 Nerve Root Sciatica
The typical symptoms for sciatica originating from the L4-L5 segment is weakness in the ankles and big toe. There may also be numbness at the top part of the foot, and the web between the big and second toe.
L3-L4 Nerve Root Sciatica
The symptoms of sciatica stemming from this level are characterized by an inability to pick the foot up with a reduced knee-jerk reflex.
Is That Back Ache Sciatica Pain?
While all the above symptoms may vary, there are some common and more general tell-tale signs of sciatic nerve pain. They include:
- Pain in the lower back that radiates to the buttocks and legs.
- Persistent pain in one buttock and leg.
- Throbbing pain in one leg that travels down the buttock into the thigh and reaches down to the knee or the feet.
- Leg pain often felt as a burning sensation.
- Cramps, numbness or tingling sensation in lower extremities.
- Weakness and mobility issues in the affected leg.
- Pain and discomfort worsens / intensifies when seated.
- Pain is felt along the entire length of one leg, including thighs, knees, ankle and toes.
- Sharp pain that makes standing or walking difficult.
- Changes in the gait due to mobility problems caused by the pain.
If you have more than one of these symptoms, you are in all likelihood suffering from sciatica.
When To See Your Doctor
In most cases, sciatica pain gets resolved in a few weeks or months with conservative treatment initiatives such as physiotherapy, massage and exercise. However, if you are experiencing other symptoms along with the lower back and leg pain, you need to see a doctor at once. Particularly if the other symptoms include:
- Fever and chills
- Numbness in the genital area
- Loss of appetite
- Bladder or bowel dysfunction
How Essential Oils Help Heal Sciatic Nerve Pain
Sciatica can be quite the tricky beast to tame, but there’s a wide range of natural treatment options that all sciatic nerve pain patients deserve to know about.
Since sciatica involves nerve inflammation and constant pain, essential oils are often more effective against the condition than even OTC painkillers, which only offer short term reprieve.
Essential oils not only soothe the affected area but also help to bring down muscle pain and inflammation and numb the irritated nerves. In addition, these aromatic compounds help in controlling the anxiety and depression that often result from chronic pain.
Essential oils contain active medical properties that can be exploited to offer relief for almost all symptoms associated with the sciatic nerve pain. But what’s even more interesting is that with the right blend, you can treat as well as prevent further cases of sciatic nerve irritation.
Some essential oils like Eucalyptus and Thyme have anti-inflammatory properties bring down swelling and pressure of the sciatic nerve. At the same time, both these oils stimulate the production red blood cells.
What most patients are really interested in are the antispasmodic and analgesic properties that give essential oils their pain relieving properties. These include essential oils such as Peppermint, Sage and Clove.
Other essential oils like Cypress and Wintergreen are powerful astringents that stimulate blood circulation to help heal any injuries around the sciatic nerve.
Camphor essential oil is also an incredibly effective analgesic that can help treat pain and the numbing sensation that comes with some types of sciatica. It’s also a mild decongestant and germicide that can really make a difference in your massage oil blend.
Essential oils also promote deep relaxation which is another step towards your journey to recovery.
How To Safely Use Essential Oils For Sciatic Nerve Pain
Always remember that essential oils are highly concentrated and should not be used directly on the skin without proper dilution first. Likewise, it’s never recommended to apply essential oils neat on children, pregnant women and the elderly.
There are various ways to safely use essential oils to treat sciatic nerve pain.
- If you are applying essential oils topically, then doing it right will give you maximum benefits. Topical application allows the oils to seep deep into the skin where they can spread their healing powers. To use essential oils safely on the skin, make sure you blend in approx. 15-20 drops of essential oil to an ounce of carrier oil.
- Another way to safely use essential oils for sciatica is by applying a compress – more specifically, a hot compress. The dilution with water minimizes the risk of any skin irritation for people who have sensitive skin. The most popular compress for sciatica is a hot towel to the back. You could also take the hot compress idea to the next level and turn it into an entire bath where you soak in Epsom salt, hot water and essential oils for 20-30 minutes.
- But what is hands down the safest and oldest technique for using essential oils has is aromatherapy. By steaming or diffusing essential oils, you can reap all the medical benefits they have to offer from within. The respiratory system readily welcomes the oils into the body which is great news for people with sensitive skin.
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What Are The 7 Best Essential Oils For Sciatica Nerve Pain?
Although it is frequently used as a digestive aid, few know that the soothing, warming properties of ginger essential oil can also be leveraged to treat rheumatoid arthritis and sciatica pain. The oil extracted from fresh ginger rhizomes is a rich source of a phytocompound called Zingibain, which is an extremely potent anti-inflammatory agent. Moreover, ginger essential oil is also a mild analgesic that soothes muscle, joint and nerve pain.
This cooling oil is well known for its anesthetic and anti-inflammatory properties and is often used in pain relief blends. When used to treat sciatica, the cooling effect of peppermint not only helps to calm the irritated nerve but also prevents painful muscle spasms that may further pinch the nerve.
An extremely strong natural pain killer, wintergreen essential oil with its antispasmodic, analgesic and anti-arthritic properties acts as a counter irritant when used topically. It over stimulates the nerves, making them run out of pain transmitting neurochemicals. Additionally, wintergreen oil also has notable anti-inflammatory effects on nerves, muscles and joints. It works as a mild sedative, so it helps to calm both the body and the mind.
This aromatic smelling oil rarely figures in pain blends, although it certainly should owing to its superlative antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties. Because sciatica pain persists till the nerves remain inflamed, marjoram yields unexpectedly positive and rapid results against the condition since it quickly brings the inflammation under control.
5. Birch (sweet birch)
This detoxifying oil contains a significant amount of methyl salicylate which is a known NSAID. Methyl salicylate or menthol has significant pain relieving properties; plus, the cooling effect of sweet birch oil helps to lower the release of pro inflammatory chemicals in the body.
This antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory and analgesic oil not only decreases the intensity of muscle cramps and pain but also help to increase blood circulation to the sore area. In turn, this aids in the faster removal of toxins and greater oxygenation of the affected tissue. Clove oil is one of the best and most effective essential oil used for pain relief as well as in tooth pain related issues.
Another essential oil that is valued for its anti-inflammatory and soothing effects, eucalyptus has long been used in aromatherapy for pain relief and is an excellent oil for all nerve related pain.
Best Carrier Oils For Sciatica Pain
Use a mixture of Moringa, Indian Ginseng (Ashwagandha), Calendula and St John’s Wort infused oils. All of these herbs act as nerviness (compounds that dull the response of the nerves) when used externally and offer significant relief from any kind of discomfort that is nerve related.
Plus, their anti-inflammatory and warming properties help to rein in the pain. These oils can be bought online or you can use dry herbs to make your own blend. Just remember to use 50% castor oil and 50% evening primrose oil as the base to infuse the herbs.
Alternatively, you can use any of the following carrier oils for sciatica pain; sweet almond, castor, jojoba, sesame, coconut, and hemp seed.
10 Best Therapies And Recipes With Essential Oils For Sciatica Pain
Recipe 1: Soothing massage oil
- 30ml (1 ounce) almond carrier oil
- 6 drops eucalyptus
- 10 drops birch
Mix the oils and store in a roller ball bottle. To use, apply on the back as well as on the sore leg and massage with firm but slow strokes. This blend works well against chronic, sub-acute pain.
Recipe 2: Pain relief oil for throbbing and burning pain
- 30ml sesame carrier oil
- 4 drops ginger
- 8 drops wintergreen
- 5 drops peppermint
- 3 drops lemongrass
Mix all the ingredients and store in a dark, glass bottle. Apply on affected area, preferably right above the parts of your back, hips and legs through which the sciatic nerve runs. Don’t massage vigorously, instead apply the mixture with a gentle hand and let your skin absorb the ingredients. This blend is best used at night as it is very relaxing and may induce drowsiness.
Recipe 3: Cold compress
- 1 tbsp jojoba oil
- 6 drops peppermint
- 7 drops cypress
- 5 drops wintergreen
Mix the oils together and then add them to a large bowl of water filled half way through with ice cubes. Use a hand towel for the therapy. Give the mixture a good whisk; you don’t want large droplets of the oil floating on top. Dip the cloth into the bowl of water, squeeze out the excess fluids and then place on the affected areas.
Keep the towel on your skin till it does not feel cold anymore and then repeat the process. Continue cooling the sore area for about 15-20 minutes. This treatment can be used every 4-5 hours if the pain and tenderness is intense. Also, exclusively use a cold compress for 2-3 days (instead of a hot compress) if you have just started experiencing sciatica pain. This will help to rapidly bring down the inflammation.
Recipe 4: Hot compress
- 1 tbsp almond oil
- 4 drops nutmeg
- 5 drops clove
- 8 drops ginger
Mix the oils and add them to a large bowl of hot water. The water should be hot enough for you to feel the heat but it should not burn your skin, so test it on the inside of your wrist first.
Dip a hand towel in the oil-water mixture, wring and place on the sore areas of your back and legs. Repeat when the cloth no longer feels hot to the touch. A hot compress can be used as a standalone treatment up to 3-4 times a day, but it is best to alternate it with a cold compress.
Recipe 5: Sciatica pain buster poultice
- 2 tbsp black gram
- 2 horseradish
- 5 drops lemongrass
- 6 drops eucalyptus
- 8 drops ginger
Soak the black gram (available at most Asian food stores and a tried and tested ayurvedic treatment for muscle inflammation and nerve pain) in warm water for 2 hour. Then, grind the black gram and horseradish to get a thick paste. Add 2 tbsp of boiling water to this paste and then mix in the essential oils (only add 5 drops of ginger essential oil).
Let the mixture stand for a minute and then apply it on a strip of cloth, natural fabrics like cotton will work best for this. Place the paste covered strip/strips on the sore areas of the body, preferably starting at the back and moving down the buttocks and leg.
Alternatively, the paste can also be applied directly on the skin. Before the application of the paste, fill another large bowl with hot water and add 3 drops of ginger essential oil to it. Like you did for the hot compress, dip a hand towel in this water, wring it out tight and place it on top of the paste or strip covered area. Finally, cover with a dry woolen cloth to prevent the soothing warmth from escaping.
You can also use a heating pad on top of hand towel soaked in the ginger oil and water solution. The aim is to heat the poultice covered area for 15- 20 minutes. Once you are done, wash or wipe the paste from your skin using the leftover ginger oil mixed water. This should be done once a day or once in two days. The blend of essential oils and the other ingredients often provides immediate relief, even from severe sciatica pain.
Recipe 6: Relaxing, anti-inflammatory bath soak
- 1 tbsp sesame carrier oil
- 4 drops wintergreen
- 8 drops lavender
- 5 drops marjoram
- 1 cup sea salt or Himalayan pink salt
- ½ cup Epsom salt
- A handful or coriander leaves
Add the salt and the coriander to a bathtub filled with hot water. Mix the essential oils with the carrier oil and then add this mixture to the bath water; agitate the water vigorously to disperse the oil.
Sit back and enjoy the relaxing soak for about 30 minutes. Before you leave the tub, rub any large oil droplets that you see on the surface of the water into the skin on your lower back and thighs.
Recipe 7: Blend to get more from your brace
Using a lumbar sacral brace and a thigh brace can help immensely if you suffer from sciatica. The brace holds the muscles tightly together, preventing movement that may further irritate the nerves. Here is the recipe of a blend that will further enhance the efficacy of your brace. For this, you will need:
- 20 ml almond oil
- 5 drops peppermint
- 3 drops birch
- 4 drops cypress
Mix the oils and dip some gauze into the mixture and squeeze out the excess oil. Place the gauze strip on the painful area of the back, thigh or knee that you intend to use the brace on. Cover the gauze strip completely with cotton and then wear your brace. Let the gauze stay on your skin for as long as you keep the brace on. Also, use this blend with a band or a brace when doing stretches for sciatica pain.
Recipe 8: Massage blend for a Slipped Disc
- 10 drops peppermint
- 8 drops eucalyptus
- 6 drops rosemary
- 5 drops ginger
- 5 drops cypress
- 2 ounces sweet almond (carrier oil)
A herniated or slipped disc occurs as a result of a break in the ligaments around a particular vertebrae. To make use of this recipe, start by adding all your oils in a small glass bottle. Top it off with sweet almond carrier oil and mix thoroughly.
How To Use
The best way to use this blend is by way of a massage so that the disc can be eased back into position with chiropractic care. The main challenge with massages is that it can get tricky to do it alone, especially if you’re dealing with the upper back.
So if you can, try to get someone to give you a massage so they can reach all parts of your back. Alternatively, you could get a professional massage or chiropractic care for even better results.
Recipe 9: Milk bath for Lumbago
- 8 drops German Chamomile
- 6 drops Ginger
- 4 drops Sweet Marjoram
- 5 drops Rosemary
- 1 cup Epsom salt
With most cases of pain and discomfort, a little heat goes a long way towards easing pain in different parts of the body. And nothing relaxes the body after a long day at work like a nice, relaxing bath.
To make use of this recipe, start by running a hot bath in your tub. As it fills up, dissolve your Epsom salt in there and add a pint of milk. Drip in your essential oils as indicated and stir well to get everything dissolved. You can also agitate the water to disperse the oils further.
How To Use
Give yourself a much deserved soak for about half an hour.
Similarly, you could use just the essential oils without a bath to create a cool compress. Just add the oils in cold water and soak a cloth until it’s completely wet. Wring it out and apply the cold compress on the painful areas in your lower back. Apply the compress every few hours.
Recipe 10: Diffuser blend for Piriformis
- 3 drops Lavender
- 4 drops Ginger
- 2 drops Eucalyptus
As mentioned, making a diffuser blend is the easiest and safest way to use essential oils. It also creates a conducive, stress free environment that helps with relaxation after work.
How To Use
To make use of this recipe, start by dripping the oils in your diffuser and diffuse as normal. Aromatherapy works as a double whammy since not only does it help the essential oils work their way into your bloodstream, but it also leaves a sweet, calming scent in your room.
Another reason why aromatherapy works well is because it can be used in conjunction with other types of sciatica treatments. You can enjoy the aroma from your diffuser while getting a massage or even while taking your milk bath.
Other Natural Ways To Heal Sciatica
Lets look at some natural treatment options for acute and chronic sciatica.
1. Heating Pads and Compresses
Plenty of people have found relief for sciatic nerve pain with either store bought heating pads or homemade hot compresses. Placing the heat around the lumbar and back region helps soothe pain and accelerate the healing process for the sciatic nerve.
2. Chiropractic Care
Chiropractic spinal adjustments include manipulation of the spine physically to help restore vertebrates that have been misaligned. With the right care, inflamed and agitated nerves and muscles can be calmed.
3. Acupuncture and Massage Therapy
Acupuncture makes use of traditional Chinese medicine practice that is centered on achieving better health by opening up your body’s natural flow of energy. This is achieved by inserting tiny needles to specific pathways in your body. Likewise, a massage is also a natural, holistic way of improving blood flow, opening up muscles and tissue as well as promoting relaxation.
4. Exercises and Stretches
Although moving is some ways can aggravate sciatic pain, you can actually find relief with the right exercises. Avoid things like scrunches and squats which shorten the spine. Instead, go for spine lengthening exercises such as Yoga.
One important stretch for sciatica patients is the reclining pigeon pose which works the piriformis muscles preventing inflammation and pressure. The standing hamstring stretch is also quite beneficial since it eases the pain quickly – just place your foot on an elevated surface like a chair, bend forward to initiate the stretch, but don’t take it too far. Hold for 30 seconds and then repeat with the other leg.
How To Prevent Sciatica
In addition to exercises and natural treatments for sciatic pain, there are some things you could do (differently) to prevent sciatica whether you’re at wok or home.
Proper Sitting Techniques
- Always sit with your shoulders back and spine straight. Keep the entire back to the chair and avoid a drooping or leaning posture.
- Distribute your weight evenly over your hips, don’t lean to one side.
- When seated, the knees should be at a right angle and a tad higher than your hips with both feet on the floor.
- It helps to move around and take a break ever once every hour. Stretch a bit and get the blood flowing properly again.
Proper Lifting Techniques
- Whether you’re the world’s strongest man or a busy family man, you have to know your limits. If something’s too heavy to lift on your own, get help.
- Keep close to the object you are lifting and get a firm footing on an even surface. Your back must always be straight as you bend. And remember, lift with your legs, not your back.
- Avoid smoking and maintain a healthy body mass index so you don’t put unnecessary pressure and stress on your spine.
The Bottom Line
Why choose essential oils over pills? Pills and essential oils work in an entirely different manner. While pills are meant to toxify the body for temporary relief, essential oils work towards detoxifying it so that relief can be obtained naturally.
Pills work by confusing the receptor sites while on the other hand essential oils deal with the receptor sites. Essential oils feed the body with what it needs without tricking it into doing something that is undesirable in the long term. With the excessive use of pills, it does not take much time before the side effects start to show up.