What Can I Do to Manage Low Back Pain and Sciatica?
Question: I have low back pain and sciatica. The pain in my leg is awful. My doctor says it should get better over the next few weeks. I'm 42 years-old and have 2 kids under age 6 at home. What can I do to manage the pain until then? Any ideas?
— Chicago, IL
Answer: Low back pain alone can be difficult to manage, but add sciatica and just about any activity becomes painfully difficult! There are many ways to help manage pain during the next few weeks. These tips can help you reduce discomfort and avoid aggravating your low back and sciatic nerve.
Switch between Ice and Heat: Apply an ice pack for 15 minutes as often as once per hour. If you use ice cubes or a bag of frozen vegetables, be sure to wrap the ice source in a towel to protect your skin. After 2 or 3 days of ice therapy, use heat (or moist heat) for 15 minutes every 2 or 3 hours. Avoid sleeping with an ice pack or heat source to prevent skin injury.
Anti-Inflammatory Medications: If your doctor prescribed an anti-inflammatory or pain medication, be sure to take it as recommended. Don't wait for pain to become severe before medicating because it can take longer to regain pain control. Don't mix over-the-counter medications with prescription drugs without your doctor's advice. If your doctor says an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory is a good choice for you, there are many such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil), or naproxen (Aleve).
Rest a Little: Back and leg pain can exhaust you! While rest (lying down) and sleep are important to recovery, don't allow yourself to be constantly idle. Even walking for short distances will help keep muscles toned.
To get comfortable when lying down, lie on your side with a pillow between your knees. Or, lie on your back and place a pillow under your knees. Both positions help reduce pain. Change positions often to avoid becoming stiff.
An Extra Set of Hands: Young children add a whole new dimension to overcoming an episode of back and leg pain! Bending over to pick up toys, laundry and household chores, and simply getting through bath time is a challenge. Is it possible to recruit your spouse, partner, family member, or friend to pitch in during your recovery? Even with all hands on board, you still need to move around. Try some of these techniques to avoid aggravating your low back and sciatic symptoms.
Sitting: Limit sitting to 15 minutes, choose a chair with good back support or place a rolled up towel at your low back, sit in a chair with armrests, when standing up use the armrests and stand up straight - don't bend at the waist.
Standing: Stand up straight with weight on each foot. Don't stand in one position for a long time. To reduce back stress, rest one foot on a raised surface; switch feet periodically.
Avoid Bending at the Waist: Instead, squat with your back straight. If squatting is painful, kneel carefully while keeping your stomach muscles tight (core strength).
Avoid Sudden Movements: With small children around the house, avoiding sudden movement presents another challenge. Lifting and reaching can make back pain and sciatic symptoms worse.
Coughing and Sneezing: Colds and flu are common in every household with young children. Coughing and sneezing irritates back pain and sciatic symptoms. If you feel a cough or sneeze coming on, try to stand up and bend slightly backwards.
We hope this information benefits you! Be sure to keep in touch with your treating doctor, especially if low back and leg pain becomes worse. Thank you for sending your question to Ask the Experts. We wish you the best for a speedy recovery!