What is Sciatic Nerve Pain and How Can I Relieve It?

Everything you need to know about sciatica

Sciatica can be a real pain in the butt – and I mean that literally! If you’ve got a pain that runs from your lower back, to your bottom, and down to your legs and feet, then you could be suffering with sciatica.

So, let’s take a look at this condition, what makes it such a pain, and what you can do to make yourself more comfortable as you heal.

What is sciatica?

Sciatica is something that happens when your sciatic nerve becomes irritated or sore. Your sciatic nerve comes out from the bottom of your spine and travels down your legs to your feet.

It’s the longest nerve in your body, and it’s responsible for controlling lots of the muscles and sensation in your lower legs and feet.

As this nerve runs through such a large area of your body, when you have sciatica you can experience symptoms in a wide range of areas, including your bottom, the backs of your legs, your feet, and your toes.

What are the symptoms of sciatica?

When you have sciatica, you could experience any of the following symptoms in your legs, feet, bottom, or lower back:

  • Pain, e.g. a stabbing or burning sensation
  • Tingling, pins and needles
  • Numbness
  • Feeling weak

When you have sciatica, you may find that your symptoms feel worse when you make sudden movements, such as sneezing or coughing.

However, you should try to keep moving as much as you can, and try not to sit or lie down for long periods of time.

What causes sciatic nerve pain?

There are four main causes of sciatic nerve pain and each of them cause something to press or rub on your sciatic nerve, leaving it irritated and causing you pain.

The most common cause of sciatica is a slipped disc, which is also known as a herniated disc.

This happens when the soft cushion of tissue that lies between the bones of your spine pushes outwards, away from where it should be and onto your sciatic nerve.

Other causes include:

  • Spinal stenosis – when the part of your spine where your nerves pass through is narrowed, putting pressure on the sciatic nerve
  • Spondylolisthesis – When one of the bones in your spine slips out of place, putting pressure on your sciatic nerve
  • Other back injuries

Once your doctor knows what’s causing your sciatica, they can start to recommend treatments that will help you to heal as quickly as possible.

These could all be slightly different depending on the cause, so don’t assume that a treatment that’s worked for someone else will work in the exact same way it will for you and always follow the advice of medical professionals.

Is my pain caused by sciatica?

If you have pain in your leg, lower back, or buttocks and still aren’t sure whether you have sciatica then the best thing you can do is see your doctor.

They’ll be able to give you a thorough examination and determine what’s causing your pain and what you should do next.

If your pain is only in your back and doesn’t move down to the legs and buttocks, then you probably don’t have sciatica and should speak to a medical professional so they can try to discover the cause of your pain.

How to treat sciatica

Sciatica will normally go away by itself within 4 – 6 weeks, but can sometimes last a little longer.

In the meantime, there are a few things you can do at home to ease your pain as your irritated nerve heals.

This can include regular stretches and applying heat packs to the affected areas to ease the muscles and relieve your pain.

In the meantime, you should carry on with your everyday life as much as you can.

The more you move around and do the things you’d normally do every day, the easier your recovery will be.

Even if you feel pain when you move around and go through your regular daily routine, staying still for long periods of time won’t help you to heal, and you should keep moving as much as you can without overdoing it.

Sciatica pain relief

If you have sciatica, then your pharmacist can recommend some over the counter painkillers that can help to ease your pain and keep you mobile as you recover.

This can include NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines) such as ibuprofen, which is available in tablets, capsules or as a gel or cream that you can apply directly to the affected area.

If you’re not sure which medication will work the best for you, ask your friendly Chemist 4 U pharmacist for advice before you buy.

Actipatch for Sciatica

If you’re looking for a drug-free way to manage pain caused by sciatica, then you could try one of our favourite products – Actipatch.

The Actipatch is a pain relief patch that can be placed anywhere on the body and is clinically proven to help to ease muscle and joint pain.

Place your Actipatch over the area of pain in your lower back and use a plaster or bandage to keep it in place. Turn it on and leave it in the same place until your pain disappears.

The Actipatch is different to a TENS machine, which creates heat and vibration when you use it. When you wear your Actipatch you’ll feel no sensation at all, no vibrations, no heat, no drugs, just simple pain relief!

Are there any exercises that can ease my sciatica?

There are some exercises that you can do at home to help ease your sciatic pain, in fact, doctors recommend that you should try to do as much gentle exercise as you can as you recover.

The NHS has a range of informative videos where a physiotherapist demonstrates some simple stretches and exercises you can do at home to ease you pain, depending on the cause of your sciatica.

The video below shows you some gentle exercises you can do to ease sciatica caused by a herniated or slipped disk.

If your doctor has told you that your sciatica has a different cause, click here to see the NHS’s other sciatica exercise videos.



Exercises to avoid when you have sciatica

When you’re recovering from sciatica, it’s important that you try to relax as you recover, so try to avoid any strenuous exercise.

For example, we wouldn’t recommend weight lifting, cross training, or trying to break the world bench pressing record while you’re in recovery.

Instead, stick to walking, yoga, swimming, or other forms of gentle exercise until you’re feeling better.

When should I see a doctor?

If you have sciatica and find that it hasn’t improved or has gotten worse over the course of a few weeks, then you should make an appointment to see your GP as soon as possible.

You should also make sure to see your doctor if your sciatica has stopped you from doing your regular activities, as they may be able to help you to get back to doing the things you love most.

If your sciatica is serious or you show other symptoms, then you may need to go to A&E or call an ambulance, we’d recommend this if any of the following symptoms apply to you:

  • Sciatica on both sides of your body
  • Severe weakness or numbness in your legs which you may find is getting worse
  • Numbness around or under your genitals or anus
  • Difficulty peeing or controlling when you pee or poo, if this is abnormal for you

Hopefully now you’ll know a little bit more about the pain in the butt (and legs, and feet, and lower back) that is sciatica!

If you’ve got any questions that you still think need clearing up, feel free to contact our Chemist 4 U pharmacists via phone, email, social media, our Ask A Pharmacist feature, or any other way you’d like to get in touch (personally, I love a good smoke signal).

We’ll be happy to help you out with any medical questions you’ve got on your mind, any time!


Laura Henderson - Medical Content Writer
James O'Loan - CEO & Superintendent Pharmacist
James O'Loan , CEO & Superintendent Pharmacist on 17 September 2021
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