Sciatica Pain Relief: Medication, Stretches, Sleep Position & More

Updated in November 2023

To relieve sciatica pain, you can apply a warm compress, massage the area and stretch the back and legs.

These methods help to relax the back, glute and leg muscles so that the nerve does not become further compressed. They can be easily done at home to relieve pain and discomfort  while you wait for assessment with the doctor.

In addition to pain and discomfort, some patients may also report difficulty keeping their back straight and pain with walking. Check-out our our online sciatica symptoms quiz to determine your risk for this condition.

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1. Apply anti-inflammatory cream

Anti-inflammatory creams, like diclofenac or piroxicam, can be purchased at the pharmacy without a prescription. They can help to significantly relieve the pain caused by sciatic nerve inflammation. A

The cream should be applied daily to the affected area twice a day with a light massage until the product is totally absorbed by the skin.

Read more about the sciatica medications that your doctor can prescribe to help manage pain and discomfort.

2. Perform stretching exercises

When there is a lot of pain, some indicated exercises you can try are stretching, specifically stretching the lumbar spine, thighs and glutes. A good example is:

  • Lay down on your back, with your knees bent, and pull one knee to your chest and hold it with your hands to stretch your back. Then do the same with the other knee, as long as you do not have pain. Keep this position for 30 seconds. Repeat 3 times, taking a few seconds of break in between stretches.

When pain starts to decrease, and to prevent a new flare-up, it is important to strengthen the abdominal muscles. Therefore, Pilates exercises as recommended by your physiotherapist are indicated. You can start with the following:

  • Lay down on your back with your knees bent and contract your stomach, bringing your belly button toward your back. Hold this contraction while you breathe normally.
  • From this position, elevate one leg with your knee bent, and hold this position for 5 seconds before you lower your leg again. Inhale each time you lift your leg, and exhale while you lower it. You can alternate this exercise between legs, aiming for 5 repetitions to each leg. 

Read more about sciatica stretches approved by our in-house physiotherapist. 

3. Apply a warm compress

Another good home treatment to relieve pain and inflammation caused by the sciatic nerve is to apply a hot water bottle at the bottom of your spine, or over the painful area. This helps to relax surround muscles and increases the release of endorphins that help to promote wellbeing..

You can purchase a hot water bottle at a pharmacy, but you can also make a warm compress at home by placing a bag of uncooked rice in a pillow case. You can heat your pouch in the microwave for about 2 minutes, making sure to flip the pillowcase after 1 minute, and then place it on the affected area for 15 to 20 minutes.

4. Avoid some movements

When experiencing a sciatica flare-up, it is also important to avoid movements that involve rotating your torso or bending your body forward (e.g. picking up objects from the floor). Furthermore, it is also important to avoid sitting or lying down for extended periods of time.

5. Sleeping on your side

When sleep, you should lie on your side with a pillow under your neck and another pillow between your legs. This helps to promote adequate spinal alignment. Another possibility is to sleep on your back and place a pillow under your knees.

What causes sciatica pain

Sciatica pain occurs when the sciatic nerve becomes inflamed, which normally happens when there is compression of the nerve with again. This can also happen with bad habits, like incorrect posture. Sciatica pain usually starts at the bottom of the spine and radiates to the glutes and the back of the thigh. It can even travel to the feet. Therefore, sciatica pain can affect any point from the back to the feet.

The area where pain is most commonly felt is in the glutes. Although the sciatic nerve is found in both sides, you will usually feel pain on just one. The pain tends to be intense, sharp, or burning.