What can you do to make the pain experienced from sciatica less obvious?
First, you need to consult with your doctor as soon as possible if you’re suffering from extreme numbness or tingling, pain that travels below the knee or problems urinating or moving your bowels.
In some cases, It may resolve on its own
If the pain is mild to moderate, there’s some good news. “For some people, sciatica will resolve on its own,” Caudle says. In fact, the AAOS states that an ample amount of time and some rest usually encourages the condition to heal.
What you can do now
To ease the pain in the meantime, Cole explains that early treatment focuses on alleviating the problems of inflammation and compression. “We do this through initiating physical therapy, along with prescribing anti-inflammatory medications,” he says. “These can be highly effective in eradicating the symptoms.”
Applying ice packs, followed by heat, such as a heating pad or warm compress, to the affected area can offer relief as well, notes Caudle. Cleveland Clinic recommends using cold packs for about 20 minutes at a time throughout the day during the first 48 to 72 hours, then switching to heat around day three.
While your typical workout routine will likely need to be put on hold for a few weeks — along with twisting your back and lifting heavy items — and it’s important to rest, that doesn’t mean completely forgoing regular movement. Since motion aids in reducing inflammation, staying in bed during the day can cause pain in other parts of the body, according to the AAOS. If your doctor hasn’t prescribed physical therapy, Caudle suggests doing gentle stretching exercises.
Alternative therapies, such as massage therapy, acupuncture and chiropractic care, can also provide relief.
If the pain is not subsiding and mobility is not improving after six weeks, Cole says your health care provider may need to further investigate through imaging tests of the spine, such X-rays or an MRI. “Some people may elect for spinal injections, which is another route of administration of anti-inflammatory medication in a higher proportion to a specific area,” he says.
Up to 90% of people with sciatica feel better over time without having an operation, according to the AAOS. Surgery — such as a laminotomy or laminectomy, in which part or all of the vertebral bone is surgically removed to relieve pressure on the nerve, respectively — would be a last resort. “Surgery may be required when conservative care has failed or there is a neurologic deficit such as weakness, atrophy of muscles or bowel or bladder compromise,” says Cole.