Heat or cold for Sciatica – which one should you use?

Heat or ice for Sciatica - which one should you use?

Heat or cold for Sciatica – which is best? Well, if you’ve been diagnosed with having sciatica and are not really sure what to do next, then read on and we’ll tell you a bit about what Sciatica is, what actually causes it and how to actually resolve it.

What is Sciatica?

Sciatica is the term given to irritation of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is made up of a collection of lower lumbar vertebra nerves. These vertebrae are made up of five bodies with soft intervertebral discs.

Between these vertebra runs the nerve root, and this root comes out at five different levels each with its own set of nerves.

The sciatic nerve then is made up of a combination or merging of these five lower vertebra nerves to make a single nerve. This nerve then runs through the gluteal muscles and innovates the muscles of the leg and feet.

Symptoms of Sciatica

The symptoms associated with Sciatica are a sharp electrical or burning type pain that shoots down the back of the leg. This pain can often go all the way down the leg to the foot or equally terminate at different levels. The different levels of the referral down the leg is often a depiction of the nerve root that’s implicated.

Types of Sciatica

Sciatica pain happens when you get irritation to the nerve. This can be caused by either entrapment or compression. The difference between these two types of irritation is that often with an entrapment the nerve gets pinched by a disc bulge or herniated disc (slipped disc). The herniated disc basically bulges through the side and takes up space which starts to pinch on the nerve root. This is what’s called entrapment.

The other sciatic irritation is called compression and this type of irritation is muscular in origin. The sciatic nerve runs through the gluteal muscles and in compression sciatica what happens is the gluteal muscles become very tight and shortened and they start squeezing around the sciatic nerve.

In some respects, compression type Sciatica, like Piriformis Syndrome, Sacroiliac Syndrome and Erector Spinae Strain are a lot easier to resolve because it’s muscular in origin, whereas entrapment sciatica can be harder to resolve because it’s caused by a structural problem like pinching or bulging of a disc.

Should I use heat or cold for Sciatica?

The answer is, it depends. When it comes to using heat or cold for sciatica treatment you must first get the pain properly assessed. Given the two different types of sciatica (entrapment and compression) it’s essential that you first determine the origin of the pain. Only then will you know whether to use heat or ice to treat your sciatica.

As there are several different condition types that produce sciatic pain so it’s essential you determine whether it is entrapment or compression first because the conditions are different and they’re treated differently.

If you’ve got an entrapment type sciatica and you’re treating it as compression or vice-versa, then it won’t get better. In fact, it’s more likely to get worse. So use our pain assessment tool to find the likely cause of your pain. You’ll get a treatment guide full of expert advice included in the price.

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Other resources

Hot cold treatment – when to use
Hot cold therapy – how it works
Sciatica First Aid