Acupressure: In this massage technique, the therapist applies pressure with her fingertips or knuckles. There are about 30 to 40 acupressure points. The goal is to release physical tension to the painful area, relax tight muscles, and increase blood circulation. It’s possible to learn how to identify the points and massage them yourself when a flare-up occurs.
Acupuncture: In traditional Chinese medicine, sciatica, like other physical pain, is considered a chi (energy) stagnation, says Javaharian Mohammad, L.Ac., of the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in San Diego. Acupuncture treatments use thin needles to stimulate points in the lower back to help unblock chi and ease pain.
Herbs: Many herbalists use St. John’s wort flowering tops for mild painful conditions, including sciatica and muscle inflammation, says herbalist Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa. Turmeric is another widely used herb. Its anti-inflammatory effects are most likely due to its active ingredient, curcumin, which gives turmeric its yellow color and may be as effective as cortisone in fighting acute inflammation. Or try a strong tea made from gotu kola (one ounce of dry herb steeped in one pint of water), which can help heal chronic conditions if taken daily for several days or weeks, Khalsa says. (Check with a naturopath before taking these or any other herbs.)
Leg Stretches: Place the foot of the painful leg up on a box, chair, or stair, while standing, suggests Loren Fishman, M.D. “Lifting the leg stretches spastic muscles in the leg, buttock, and lower back,” he says. If both legs hurt, lie on your back, bend your knees, and bring them to your chest. “Make sure your movements are slow and careful,” Fishman counsels. For unbearable pain, do the poses while in a warm shower, and let the water cover as much of your body as possible: shoulders, back, and leg; or chest, abdomen, and leg.
Ice: Old-fashioned ice therapy numbs sore tissue and can slow inflammation. Apply an ice pack or ice wrapped in a towel (never place ice directly on the skin) to the area around your lumbar spine or wherever the pain is most intense.