Sciatic Nerve Pain: How to Manage It

Sciatic Nerve Pain

Back pain is one of the most common yet challenging chronic pain conditions. It can be triggered due to an injury, chronic overuse, prolonged sitting, or may manifest as part of the natural aging process. Discomfort can occur anywhere along the spine, ranging from mild to unbearable. When that pain is in the lower back, it may be due to sciatic nerve pain.

What Is Sciatic Nerve Pain?

The lower back is made up of discs, which serve as cushions between the vertebrae in the spine. Sometimes, nerve pain comes from an injury to the disc that caused it to displace. Other times, the disc’s outer layer may have worn down, allowing its inner, gel-like core to protrude. Both cases result in pressure on the sciatic nerve, the cause of back pain for many.

The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the human body. It stretches from the lower spine, or lumbar region, down to each leg. Pain due to irritation of the sciatic nerve is called sciatica. Sciatica typically arises when a herniated disc, bone overgrowth, or both exert pressure on the nerve roots.

Sciatic Nerve Pain Symptoms

Common symptoms associated with sciatica include:

Localized Lower Back Pain

Sciatica pain can be anywhere along the nerve pathway. However, it often starts as a focused discomfort in the lower back. The pain can range from a mild ache to a sharp, burning sensation.

Radiating Leg Pain

Probably the most well-known indicator of sciatica is the sharp or burning pain that radiates from the lower back down through the leg, sometimes reaching the foot. It can feel like an electric shock or jolt. Radiating pain can be made worse by sitting or standing for extended periods.

Buttock Pain

Sciatica typically affects one side of the body, resulting in pain localized to one side of the buttocks.

Leg or Foot Numbness

Nerve pressure and inflammation can cause tingling or numbness in the affected leg or foot. This lack of sensation can lead to a diminished response to touch and, in some cases, contribute to mobility issues, severe leg weakness, and even bowel and bladder changes.

Each of these symptoms can occur by itself or in combination with others.

While mild sciatica often goes away over time, if pain lasts longer than a week, is severe, or gets worse, it is important to call your doctor.

Treatments for Sciatic Nerve Pain

It is often helpful to begin with conservative approaches to manage mild sciatic nerve pain. These include:

  • Brief bed rest: A short period of rest can help with a sciatica flare, but maintaining activity is essential for recovery and preventing chronic back pain. Prolonged inactivity can weaken spine-supporting muscles, risking further disc damage.
  • Heat or ice therapy: Alternating short 15 to 20-minute ice applications with heat therapy can relieve pain, decrease inflammation, and improve circulation.
  • Anti-inflammatory medications: NSAIDs, like over-the-counter ibuprofen or naproxen, are often recommended to treat swelling and provide pain relief.
  • Physical therapy: Prescribed stretches and back-strengthening exercises can help ease nerve pressure.
  • Regular exercise: A balanced exercise regimen incorporating stretching, cardiovascular activities, and strength training can help maintain a healthy weight.

Steroid injections may also be used in some instances to lessen inflammation and discomfort.
A small number of people who do not benefit from conservative treatments may require surgery to relieve nerve compression. Options include procedures such as:

  • Discectomy: the removal of disc material pressing on the nerve
  • Laminectomy: enlarging the spinal canal by removing part of the vertebra to reduce nerve pressure.

Getting Relief for Sciatic Nerve Pain

If you have sciatica symptoms and you’re ready for relief, it’s time to take action and see a physiatrist or neurosurgeon. Our specialists will help pinpoint the cause of your sciatic nerve pain and tailor a plan specific to your needs so you can get back to being pain-free.

Don’t delay any longer – schedule an appointment today!


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