Suffering from sciatica (sciatic nerve pain)? Are you using heat or ice to relieve the pain? One of the most common misconceptions people have when it comes to sciatica treatment, is whether or not to use heat or ice. You can find many recommendation out there but a simple rule of thumb for deciding on heat or ice is, or should be, based on your symptoms.
~ If you have sharp or intense pain with or without swelling, which indicates that there is inflammation present, then this is when you want to use ice.
~ If your symptoms are mostly stiffness or mild soreness, this is an indication that there is not significant inflammation present and heat would be a better choice for this situation.
Anytime you experience an injury or trauma to the sciatic nerve, it is best to avoid using heat for at least 48 hours to make sure there is no inflammation and that it doesn’t develop. Whenever you are in doubt, it is always best to avoid using heat! Heat may feel while you are using it but heat also increases inflammation if it is present. Since heat blocks the nerves sensory receptor it may feel good until you remove the heat then, because heat increases inflammation, the pain will be much worse.
I found this to be very true as I have suffered from sciatic nerve pain for many years and have always applied heat and felt the relief while applied but, after removing the heat the sciatic nerve pain was always still there and many times it was worse after removing the heat than before I applied it.
As for any injury where inflammation and swelling are present most doctors will recommend application of ice packs to help reduce swelling and inflammation. Ice is one of the best anti-inflammatory measures you can take even though it may not feel comfortable. The short term discomfort of applying ice packs will be rewarded in long term relief of sciatic nerve pain.
Regardless of whether you are using heat or ice to treat your sciatic nerve pain, you should always separate the ice or heat pack from the skin with a layer of clothing to help prevent skin damage. It is also important to avoid using ice or heat if you have recently applied a topical analgesic such as, Icy Hot, Ben Gay, Theragesic, Biofreeze, or any other until they have completely worn off or the heat or ice can cause skin irritation and damage.
When using heat or ice to treat sciatica it is important to apply for only twenty minuets at a time allow the skin to return to its normal temperature, be safe wait 1-2 hours before reapplying. It will take a few minutes or more for the heat or cold to penetrate the clothing so start timing when you actually feel it. Remember twenty minutes at one to two hour intervals to avoid skin irritation or damage.
People who have impaired circulation or decreased skin sensitivity due to nerve damage, diabetes or from anything else, should check with a doctor first before applying ice or heat.