Treatments are specific to the individual and the cause of the sciatic pain
Getting a correct diagnosis for the cause of the sciatic pain is important because this determines the appropriate sciatica treatment.
- Short term relief often takes the form of 1-2 days of rest, ice/heat therapy and pain medications to reduce inflammation and pain, such as NSAIDs or prescription oral steroids. For a severe episode of pain, epidural steroids may be injected directly into the painful area around the sciatic nerve to decrease inflammation. While the relief tends to be temporary (may be only a few weeks), injections can usually provide enough pain relief to allow a patient to make progress with an exercise program.
- Mid-term treatments may include some combination of manipulation (e.g. by a chiropractor, osteopathic physician, or appropriately trained physical therapist), physical therapy and exercise. Surgery may make sense if symptoms don’t improve after 6-12 weeks of non-surgical treatment and if a patient’s pain and ability to do regular activities are at an unacceptable level. A microdiscectomy may be considered if the sciatic pain is caused by a disc herniation. A lumbar laminectomy (open decompression) may be advised for sciatica pain that waxes and wanes over many years due to lumbar spinal stenosis.
Exercise is usually better for healing sciatic pain than rest
Beyond the first few days after the onset of sciatic pain, it’s almost always best to avoid bed rest in favour of gentle exercise. Inactivity weakens the back muscles and spinal structures, which can lead to back strain and injury and thus additional pain. Moderate exercise is typically recommended for long term relief of most sciatic pain–and is especially critical for ongoing spinal disc health.
Again, the specific underlying cause of the sciatic pain is key to developing the most appropriate and safe exercise regimen. See sciatica exercises for stretching and strengthening exercises for the most common causes of sciatica.
Although sciatica can be very painful and debilitating, it rarely results in permanent damage. Most sciatica pain episodes result from inflammation and will get better within two weeks to a few months. For longer or more intense episodes of sciatic pain, the good news is that there are numerous treatment options available depending on the specific cause.
If your back and/or leg pain doesn’t seem to fit the description for sciatica, check out common causes of back pain to see what else may be going on. Regardless of the cause, it’s important to see a spine specialist to get a proper diagnosis and to arm yourself with reliable and understandable information for your path to rehabilitation and recovery from sciatica pain.