Got Sciatica? These Treatments May Help

Beth Kassanoff, M.D. | Sept 14, 2016 Oct 20, 2016

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How pain begins

Over the years, discs in the spine weaken, become thinner and drier, and develop microscopic tears. These changes make discs susceptible to herniation (protrusion). A herniated disc can cause symptoms—known as sciatica—when it presses on the sciatic nerve.

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Anatomy of a nerve

The sciatic nerve is formed by nerve roots that emerge from the lower spine, join together in the hip region, and run down the back of each thigh, branching out near the knee into smaller nerves that extend into the calves, ankles, feet, and toes.

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Common symptoms

Here’s what you might experience: Searing or intermittent pain, numbness, or burning. You may also notice tingling that radiates from your lower back, hip, or buttocks to the back of your thigh and down the leg through the calf, and a feeling of weakness in the affected leg.

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What to expect

Sciatica often goes away on its own, but symptoms may last more than six weeks. Here’s what you can do to help alleviate the pain.

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What to try first

Apply a cold pack in the first 48 to 72 hours to the painful areas, then apply a heat pack.

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Over-the-counter pain relief

If you have your doctor’s approval to use these medications, try ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) to relieve pain.

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Limited activity

Try taking it easy the first few days but avoid bed rest.

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Chronic pain strategies

If your pain doesn’t resolve, your doctor may recommend physical therapy, a corticosteroid injection (for severe pain), chiropractic treatment, a muscle relaxant, acupuncture, massage, or surgical removal of the disc if pain persists for more than a few months.