Sciatica Ice or Heat: Which is better to Stop Sciatica Pain

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Sciatica Ice or Heat: Which is better to Stop Sciatica Pain

Article Reviewed & Updated - 10/14/2023

Medical Reviewer: Kari Haberman

Common Causes of Sciatica

Sciatica often happens when your nerve roots get compressed on the sacrum or the lumbar spine. The nerve roots essentially form the uppermost part of your sciatic nerve. This nerve extends towards your toes, which explains the pain caused by sciatica.

The sciatic nerve’s topmost portion gets compressed whenever it comes in contact with the intervertebral bone or disc.

These discs usually get misplaced due to injuries like spondylolisthesis, bony spurs or disc herniation causing a great deal of irriation in the spinal nerves.

If you suffer from sciatica, you might be wondering whether sciatica ice or heat would be the best treatment. Well, let us find out.

Ice or Heat for Sciatica – Which is Better

When people have sciatica or other types of lower back pain, they often wonder if sciatica hot or cold would be helpful for them. The truth is both options can come in quite handy in different situations.

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When to Use Ice for Sciatica Nerve Pain?

You may be asking yourself does ice help with sciatica and the answer is, yes. However, you must know how and when to use ice or cold therapy for ideal results.

The best time to use ice therapy is immediately when your pain begins. Doctor’s especially recommend cold therapy for acute sciatica or when it flares up. Here is how ice can help with your sciatica pain.

Using ice for sciatic nerve pain increases pain tolerance and significantly slows down the pace at which your brain receives pain signals.

Many consider ice to be a better alternative to oral pain relieving meds as it acts locally and provides relief to the particular area where you are feeling pain.

Applying ice directly impacts your tissues and is an effective way to control pain

Using ice for sciatica pain can significantly reduce pain and lower nerve conduction on your skin. What’s more, applying ice reduces tissue temperature, which creates a numbing effect due to constricted blood vessels and decreased blood flow.

Upon using cold therapy regularly, you will notice that it reduces muscle spasms. It does so by cooling down your muscle fibers.

If you have sciatica, you will be well aware that it causes a great deal of inflammation.

Applying ice to the affected area can lower the temperature of your tissues, decreasing its oxygen intake, which can reduce inflammation greatly. Reduced inflammation means that there will be less swelling and lower fluid collection.

Needless to say, using ice on your back, especially when your condition is acute can provide excellent pain relief and may even prevent the need to consume pain killers.

Read More: How To Relieve Sciatica Pain at Home

sciatica nerve pain located

When to Use Heat for Sciatica Pain?

Are you wondering does heat help nerve pain? Well, it definitely does, depending on when and how you use it. You can apply a heat pad after a majority of the sharp swelling and pain goes away. Utilizing heat therapy during this time helps promote healing.

Generally, it is ideal to apply the heating pad on your rear pelvis as the sciatic nerve roots are present in this area. You generally feel weakness, numbness and sciatic nerve pain one these roots become compressed, irritated or inflamed.

These symptoms quickly travel all the way down to your leg, causing a great deal of pain.

Here are a few benefits of using heat for treating sciatica pain:

It minimizes the tightness felt in the muscles and improves your lower back’s range of motion

Lowers spasm and tension in your muscles, by keeping the muscle fibers relaxed

Applying heat helps dilate the blood vessels and supplies more nutrients, oxygen and blood to promote healing

Is a Heat Pad Good for Sciatica?

As mentioned earlier, using a heating pad can be an excellent option for sciatica as long as you use it at the right time. The last thing you need to do is use the heating pad when your pain is fresh and acute.

Instead, it would be better to use ice during that time. Once the majority of your pain subsides, you can apply a heating pad to your pelvis to start the healing process.

Can Heat Make Sciatica Worse?

Applying heat to your back at the wrong time can make sciatica worse. Applying a heating pad or taking a hot shower can worsen your sciatica because heat can increase inflammation and cause fluid buildup.

So, while heat does help promote healing after you treat the inflammation with cold therapy, it is not a substitute for cold therapy when you have acute pain.

Where Do You Put an Ice Pack for Sciatica?

As mentioned earlier, sciatica happens because of an underlying condition in the lower back. More often than not, the problem occurs when the sciatic nerve roots get pinched.

When using ice therapy to get relief from sciatica pain, consider applying the icepack on your rear pelvis and lower back. This is because your sciatic nerve roots are present in these areas and keeping them cool can help you reduce inflammation significantly.

Icing your lower back instead of your calf or thighs, where you may be experiencing more pain will help you numb and control the pain at its area of origin. More importantly, doing so will also calm all of the nerves nearby.

Read More: Sciatica Ice Packs - How to Get Pain Relief Fast

How Often Should You Ice for Sciatica?

Cold therapy is the number one recommendation for dealing with sciatica related pains. This is because cold can significantly slow down the pain signals and lower inflammation.

If you want quick pain relief, applying a cold pack would be the best option. It would be best to place the cold pack on your pelvis and painful areas 3 to 4 times each day.

Now that you know whether to apply heat or ice for sciatica, you can go ahead and follow the tips we discussed in this piece to treat your pain. That said, it is always wise to discuss your condition with a professional first to ensure they can suggest a treatment that suits your particular condition.


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