How to treat sciatic nerve and back pain

Excerpt: Over 80% of adults experience back pain during their lives, but there are simple, effective ways to help prevent or alleviate sciatic nerve and other types of back pain. These include staying active, limiting bed rest, practicing yoga, and trying complementary therapies such as therapeutic massage and acupuncture. Self-care measures and treatments, such as cold packs, stretching exercises and physiotherapy, can also help ease sciatic nerve pain.

World Spine Day,* held on October 16, highlights the importance of maintaining good spinal health. Over 80% of adults experience back pain at some point in their lives,* according to the Canadian Spine Society.

What is sciatica?

Sciatica is a type of back pain that radiates along the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back, through the buttocks and down each leg,* says Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital. Although sciatic pain can be very uncomfortable, most people get better with time and conservative, non-surgical treatments,* according to Mayo Clinic.

Here are some effective ways to prevent or ease sciatic nerve and other low back pain:

  1. Stay active
    Prolonged bed rest won’t help and will delay recovery from back pain,* says the Canadian Medical Association. Get regular, low-impact exercise by walking, swimming or riding a stationary bike, and stretch before you exercise,* advises HealthLink BC.

  2. Practice yoga postures
    People with moderate to severe chronic low back pain who participated in regular yoga classes reduced their pain, improved mobility and were more likely to stop taking pain relievers,* reported an Annals of Internal Medicine study.

  3. Get relief with complementary therapies
    Therapeutic massage, acupuncture and spinal manipulation may help relieve low back pain* and often work best when combined with self-care treatments, according to Harvard Medical School

  4. Start with self-care for sciatica
    For most people with sciatica, self-care measures help ease pain,* advises Mayo Clinic. Start with cold packs for up to 20 minutes and after two to three days, apply heat to areas that hurt. Do stretching exercises for your lower back to relieve nerve root compression and use over-the-counter pain relievers, if needed. If symptoms are severe and persist, see your doctor for assessment and further treatment, says Mayo Clinic.

  5. Do physio to ease nerve pain
    Physiotherapy can help to correct posture and strengthen muscles in the lower back to take stress off the compressed sciatic nerve,* advises St. Michael’s Hospital. This may help relieve sciatic pain and prevent future episodes.

  6. Pay attention to posture
    To keep your back healthy, practice good posture by keeping your ears, shoulders and hips in a straight line when you sit, stand and walk,* says HealthLink BC.

  7. Watch your weight
    Maintaining a healthy weight minimizes the stress on your back,* says Mayo Clinic.

  8. Adjust your sleeping position
    Reduce the pressure on your back by sleeping on your side, with knees bent, and use a firm mattress,* advises The College of Family Physicians of Canada.

*The following sources provide references for this blog, in order of appearance:
1. Global Alliance for Musculoskeletal Health. “World Spine Day.” (2019), online:
2. Canadian Spine Society. “BackCare Canada: What you should know.” (2019), online:
3. The Globe and Mail. “My sciatic pain is almost unbearable. What can I do?” (2018), online:
4. Mayo Clinic. “Mayo Clinic Q and A: Sciatica treatment options.” (2016), online:
5. Choosing Wisely Canada. “Treating lower back pain: how much bed rest is too much?” (2019), online:
6. HealthLink BC. “Low back pain.” (2018), online:
7. National Institutes of Health. “Yoga eases moderate to severe chronic low back pain.” (2017), online:
8. Harvard Health Publishing. “Home remedies for low back pain.” (2017), online:
9. Mayo Clinic. “Sciatica: Diagnosis and Treatment.” (2018), online:
12. Mayo Clinic. “Back pain at work: Preventing pain and injury.” (2019), online:
13. The College of Family Physicians of Canada. “Low back pain: Tips on pain relief and prevention.” (2007), online: