Compression for Sciatica: does it work? (2023)

Home » Compression for Sciatica: does it work? (2023)

Sciatica: a pain in the backside, that can leave you feeling like a human pretzel.

Compression therapies have become popular in other areas of health and recovery, but are they worth a try for sciatica pain? And do they provide any healing advantages?

From full-leg air compression boots to socks, stockings, and wraps, we take a look at the science of these non-invasive remedies to see if they’re right for you.

Does compression help sciatica?

Compression boots, sleeves, and socks can help with the pain of sciatica. This is because compression garments apply pressure to the legs, reducing inflammation and aiding your body’s healing process.

However, sciatica can be a complex beast with deep and chronic origins in the lumbar spine: bone spurs, spinal stenosis and nasty disc bulges can be contributing – even to the point of significant disability.

So, compression therapy should be used in conjunction with treatments like:

Compression isn’t a substitute for medical care, but rather an attempt at relief that can help you get through the bad days. If you have degenerative disc disease or piriformis syndrome, compression may only provide minor advantages.

Of course there are many indirect causes of pain, like knee pain, from sciatica. This can simply be due to your body twisting away from pain, making your joints hurt in response. These ailments might be more responsive to compression than the sciatic nerve pain itself.

But what is actually going on when we put on compression gear?

How does compression therapy work?

Compression therapy works by applying pressure to an area to reduce inflammation and aid in discomfort. This approach is based on the concept that increased pressure on a specific area can help with cellular waste clearing, resulting in less swelling.

Less swelling in your legs and back could be a good thing for your sciatica.

You can get a sense of if your nerve pinch is healing with these 12 signs.

Of course, compression therapy isn’t just beneficial for those with sciatica; it’s primarily used as a recovery technique for other types of injuries related to sports and exercise, and many athletes swear by them.

normatec compression boots
Hyperice’s Normatec is a leading brand in lower body compression for aches and discomfort.

Pain relief

Compression also interferes with nerve signals that cause pain and can reduce the force of muscle contractions, leading to a decrease in spasms.

All of this adds up to improved comfort for sciatica and other problems like bone-on-bone knees.

Increased body awareness (proprioception)

Proprioception is the body’s ability to sense the position and movement of the joints and muscles. It’s very important for balance, coordination, and movement control.

Proprioception can be affected by conditions like sciatica, leading to an increased risk of falls, poor posture, and reduced mobility.

Compression garments, such as back braces and compression stockings, can help improve proprioception by providing targeted compression to the affected area, which can activate the receptors in the skin that communicate with the brain. This helps with posture, balance, and mobility.

Is compression therapy right for your nerve pain?

Compression therapies can be helpful if your nerve pain is of a manageable type, with only occasional episodes, say 1-2 per year – and not the debilitating kind where you can hardly move.

If your nerve pain is severe and involves numbness or muscle weakness in any part of your body, compression therapies should be put aside for now in favor of a trip to your doctor.

Different compression types for sciatica

There are a few different options when it comes to choosing a type of compression garment for treating sciatica. Elastic wraps or bandages, such as those used in sports, can be applied easily for quick support and nerve feedback – increasing your awareness of that area of your body, like with kinesiotape.

Compression socks and sleeves

These are the easiest to apply, and come in a variety of styles, from full knee-highs to ankle or calf sleeves. They are typically made of an elastic material and have graduated compression that increases up the leg.

Two popular types are:

Air compression boots for sciatica

Air compression boots provide full-leg coverage and use a layer of air pressure as opposed to fabric. The degree of pressure can be adjusted for comfort, making them a great option for those who experience sporadic or chronic sciatica.

Typically these types of air boots are used by athletes to speed up recovery between training sessions and sports events – especially straight after hard efforts where a lot of lactic acid has built up.

Some brands of air compression devices include:

I suggest trying out these compression boots at a local gym or recovery center, where you can typically have a session of 30 minutes that costs around $US40. If you get relief, you may want to consider your own set for home use – but they do come at a price.

What is Sciatica?

Sciatica is pain experienced in the lower back, buttocks, and legs due to inflammation of the sciatic nerve. It arises from pressure on one or more of the lumbar nerve roots which can lead to sciatica symptoms such as numbness, tingling, burning pain, and even weakness in the affected area.

Treatments to pursue involve chiropractic, physical therapy, massage, and sometimes cortisone steroid injections or invasive surgery; however, most people find relief in conservative measures.

Sciatica and compression FAQ

Will compression speed up sciatica healing?

Compression therapy can help speed up the healing process of sciatica by decreasing swelling and stiffness in the lower back and legs, while providing support for active movement therapy.

While compression therapy can provide comfort and metabolic waste return from your cells, it should not be used in place of other treatments as recommended by your doctor.

Are compression socks good for sciatica?

Compression socks are a popular option for those dealing with sciatica due to their ability to provide targeted support and relief from pain. They are usually designed with breathable fabrics.

It’s best to choose a pair of compression socks recommended by your doctor or PT to maximize effectiveness.

When should I wear compression socks?

Wearing compression socks during daily activities or when standing or sitting for extended periods of time may help with sciatica pain, numbness, tingling, and burning.

Wearing them at night is not necessary for sciatica unless you have specific instructions from your doctor about other conditions, such as vascular issues.

How long should I wear compression socks?

Compression socks can be worn for a whole day, but it’s best to take them off for bedtime. During sleep, gravity will be helping to return blood and fluid from your legs to the heart, and your sciatic nerve is generally under less pressure during sleep.

Don’t go for very long times without changing or removing compression socks, so as to prevent skin irritation or infections. Additionally, if you experience any adverse effects such as increased pain or discomfort when wearing compression garments, immediately ask your doctor for advice.

The Bottom Line

Compression therapy is not an absolute cure-all for sciatica. It can, however, help manage symptoms and offer temporary relief during sciatic flare-ups.

If you’re suffering from severe sciatica or experiencing numbness or weakness, it’s essential to consult your doctor before seeking out any form of compression treatment.

If you have any specific questions, please leave a comment below and we’ll be happy to assist you further.

Have you used compression socks or boots before? Let us know below if it helped.

Home » Compression for Sciatica: does it work? (2023)

Author Bio

Dr Jason Whealing headshot

Dr. Jason Whealing is a Chiropractor with extensive experience across the UK and Australia. He is passionate about family care and injury management. The cases Jason works with daily include back pain, neck pain, jaw pain, sciatica, knee pain, shoulder pain, headaches and migraine.

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