Tips for Managing Sciatica Pain
Sciatica is a painful condition caused by pressure on the sciatic nerve, which extends from the lower part of your back down through your hips and legs. A herniated disc in the lumbar spine is the most common cause of sciatica pain, though bone spurs can also cause symptoms. Most sciatica pain will resolve on its own within six weeks, but depending on the nature of the injury, it could persist for longer periods of time. In such cases, most patients require pain management strategies, as sciatica pain can be debilitating at times.
Symptoms of sciatica include:
- Radiating pain, originating in your lower back
- Numbness, tingling and/or muscle weakness in the affected leg
- Worsened pain when seated
Most patients experience pain in only one leg. In severe cases, urinary or fecal incontinence may also occur.
Managing Sciatica Pain
As mentioned, most cases of sciatica clear up with conservative forms of treatment in a few weeks. However, since those few weeks can be very painful, you are likely to be offered a number of options for managing the pain, including:
- Prescription medications. Depending on the severity of the pain, your doctor may prescribe a painkiller to help ease your symptoms. Anti-inflammatory drugs will be the most likely choice if your doctor believes your pain is being caused by inflamed tissues along the sciatic nerve pathway. Other choices include narcotic painkillers, including opioid analgesics, as well as muscle relaxants and anti-seizure medications, which are known to help nerve pain. Complex cases of sciatica may respond best to anti-depressants, which help the brain produce more of your body’s natural “feel-good” chemicals, thus reducing your pain.
- Steroids. Corticosteroid injections may be used to provide immediate relief if your pain is severe. These medications work by quickly counteracting inflammation in the tissues surrounding your sciatic nerve, providing rapid relief. This relief is usually temporary, and you can only get a limited number of steroid injections before this will no longer be a viable option, as corticosteroids can cause serious side effects with prolonged use.
- Physical therapy. Improving your kinetics is the key to defeating sciatica pain once and for all, and physical therapists can show you exercises that will strengthen your back and techniques for better, safer movement. Ideally, the combined effect will be to speed the healing of your current sciatica pain and prevent additional episodes from recurring in the future.
- Surgery. This is a last resort for sciatica pain management, and will only be explored if your symptoms have been severe and persist beyond the six-week mark. Surgical interventions are very effective at addressing the root cause of your sciatica pain, but back surgery comes with an inherent risk of potentially serious complications. Your doctor will not recommend surgery unless you have exhausted all other options without finding relief.
Alternative Treatments for Sciatica Pain
If you want to try a holistic method for your sciatica pain, either as an alternative to conventional medicine or as a supplementary treatment, many patients report that acupuncture and chiropractic medicine can provide relief. However, scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of these treatments is inconclusive, and there is no guarantee they will work. Even so, there is a large body of anecdotal evidence which suggests they can be very effective and provide immediate and lasting relief.
More Sciatica Management Strategies
There are things you can do at home to help ease your sciatica pain until the problem resolves itself. Gentle stretching exercises that target your lower back can loosen up tense muscles and provide some relief. Hot packs and cold packs can also be used to bring down pain and irritation. Alternating hot and cold packs for 20 minutes several times per day can calm down acute cases of sciatica pain. If severe pain remains for an extended period of time, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your symptoms.