You may assume heat therapy for sciatica isn’t working for you if you apply a heating pad or heat wrap to your leg, thigh, or calf and experience little or no relief. However, the reason for this may be because you’re not applying heat to the right place. Today, we’re going to discuss how to effectively use heat therapy for sciatica symptoms.
You’re more likely to benefit from heat therapy if you apply heat to the source of your sciatic nerve irritation or inflammation, which is usually in the lower back or rear pelvis area. Specifically, sciatic nerve roots originate in the L4 to S3 levels of the lower spine. Applying heat to this area may provide almost immediate relief from sciatica symptoms, which typically include:
• Tingling sensations
• Radiating or shooting pain
Applying heat to the rear pelvis often results in relief because heat causes blood vessels to widen, or dilate, making it easier for beneficial nutrients to get to the affected area around the sciatic nerve, which boosts the body’s natural healing abilities. Heat therapy also has the potential to provide relief by:
• Relieving tension in muscles near the sciatic nerve
• Breaking the pain-spasm-pain cycle that’s common with sciatica
• Increasing the range of motion in the lower back area as soft tissues become less tense
Using a heating pad is a common way to apply heat. However, there are many other heat therapy methods you can use for sciatica symptoms. For instance, wrapping a heated electric blanket around your lower back, rear pelvis, and abdominal area can give you more of a closed heating effect. Other options for heat therapy include:
• Hot water bottles
• Heat wraps
• Heating gel
• Self-adhesive heat patches that can be safely worn throughout the day
• Low-level heat wraps that can be discreetly worn under clothing
There are some newer methods that may be beneficial as well. One of these is infrared radiation, which can be transmitted via pads, specially designed clothing, or mats. Heat of this nature may be generated by an external power source or your own body heat.
It really depends on when your symptoms are worst. However, some people with sciatica prefer to apply heat right after waking up. Doing so may loosen muscle tissues and boost circulation enough to minimize discomfort as you get active throughout your day. It’s also important to take proper precautions, some of which include:
• Limiting direct application to 15–20 minutes at a time*
• Taking breaks between heat applications to avoid skin damage
• Avoiding heat therapy if you have certain health issues (e.g., poor circulation, diabetes, spinal cord injuries, or conditions such as multiple sclerosis or certain forms of arthritis)
*An exception is adhesive heat wraps designed to adhere to the skin safely for longer periods.
You may be able to get even more benefits if you stretch after you apply heat, which can strengthen soft tissues around your sciatic nerve to minimize flare-ups. It’s also a good idea to talk to your doctor or a Santa Monica spine surgeon about long-term solutions for sciatica pain management, such as lifestyle changes and a regular exercise plan.
If sciatica is causing your back pain, your doctor may recommend treatments such as heat applications, physical therapy, or an alternative to spinal fusion. Santa Monica patients should see a spine specialist for an accurate diagnosis and a personalized treatment plan. The pioneering physicians at The Spine Institute have unmatched expertise in all aspects of back health. Call one of our friendly representatives today at 310-828-7757 to schedule a consultation.