The 9 Best Treatments for Sciatic Nerve Pain

Tracy Davenport, Ph.D. | Sep 26th 2016 Apr 10th 2017

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Sciatica is pain that radiates from the buttock downward along the course of the sciatic nerve. Although sciatica can have several causes, 85 percent of cases are associated with a disk disorder. Degenerative spine disease, prolonged sitting, muscle, tendon, and hip injuries can also cause sciatic nerve pain. Many different treatments have been used to treat sciatic pain and include:

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Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

NSAIDs reduce inflammation throughout the body. Because some sciatic nerve pain may be due to inflammation related to the sciatic nerve, NSAIDs can sometimes provide at least short-term relief.

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Glucocorticoids

Glucocorticoids are a class of steroid hormones. Spinal injections of glucocorticoids are frequently used for lower back pain and related conditions such as sciatica. Research has shown a short-term decrease in leg pain after glucocorticoid injections with no subsequent need for surgery.

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Opioids

Opioids act on opioid receptors to produce morphine-like effects. In the past, opioids such as oxycodone and codeine were prescribed frequently for a variety of painful conditions, including back and sciatic nerve pain. However, due to their addictive qualities, many guidelines now recommend restrictions for their use.

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Antidepressants and muscle relaxants

Antidepressants and muscle relaxants have been shown to be helpful for sciatic pain. And, because chronic pain also can cause depression and muscle tightness, these drugs can have added benefits. The newer class of antidepressants is known to have fewer side effects than some of the older drugs.

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Physical therapy

Physical therapy is one of the most common initial treatments for sciatica. Although most think of resting when they have sciatic pain, movement can be just as helpful. Physical therapy may help with safe movements and to strengthen muscles that may have weakened as a result of the injury.

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Chiropractic (spinal manipulation)

Another widely used treatment for sciatica is spinal manipulation, often applied in a chiropractic setting. The results for this type of treatment have been conflicting, but some research have shown spinal manipulations can be effective for pain relief.

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Yoga

Yoga focuses on physical movement, mental focus, and breathing. There has been relatively little research on the impact of yoga on sciatica. However, research is showing promise that yoga is an effective treatment for chronic lower back pain, including sciatica.

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Surgery

Even though sciatic pain often resolves without treatment, surgery can result in earlier relief of pain. When considering surgery, the decision also depends on the reason for the pain. For example, surgery has been recommended for pain caused by large disk ruptures in the spinal column that may be causing other problems, such as bowel or bladder control.

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Do nothing at all

Sciatica resolves without treatment in the majority of cases. In one third of individuals, sciatic pain resolves without treatment within two weeks and in three quarters of individuals within three months. Your doctor will be able to recommend the best plan of treatment once the cause of the sciatic pain is determined.