As many as 40% of people will get sciatica, or irritation of the sciatic nerve, at some point in their life. This nerve comes from either side of the lower spine and travels through the pelvis and buttocks. Then the nerve passes along the back of each upper leg before it divides at the knee into branches that go to the feet.
Anything that puts pressure on or irritates this nerve can cause pain that shoots down the back of one buttock or thigh. The sensation of pain can vary widely. Sciatica may feel like a mild ache; a sharp, burning sensation; or extreme discomfort. Sciatica can also cause feelings of numbness, weakness, and tingling.
To diagnose back pain -- unless you are totally immobilized from a back injury -- your doctor probably will test your range of motion and nerve function and touch your body to locate the area of discomfort. Sometimes blood and urine tests are performed to make sure that the back pain is not caused by an infection or other more widespread medical problem.
If your symptoms persist more than four to six weeks, you have suffered trauma. Or, if your doctor suspects a serious cause behind the back pain,...
Pain may be made worse by prolonged sitting, standing up, coughing, sneezing, twisting, lifting, or straining. Treatment for sciatic pain ranges from hot and cold packs and medications to exercises and complementary and alternative remedies.
Medications for Relief of Pain From Sciatica
Several types of medications may be used for sciatic pain. Oral medications include:
Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen, aspirin, or NSAIDs (such as ibuprofen [Advil, Motrin], ketoprofen, or naproxen [Aleve])
Prescription muscle relaxants to ease muscle spasms
Antidepressants for chronic low back pain
Prescription pain medications for more severe pain
Do not give aspirin to a child aged 18 years of age or younger because of the increased risk of Reye's syndrome.
In some cases, a steroid medication is injected into the space around the spinal nerve. Research suggests these injections have a modest effect when irritation is caused by pressure from a herniated, or ruptured, disc.
Surgery for Sciatica
If pain from sciatica persists for at least six weeks despite treatment, you may be referred to a specialist. At that point, surgery may be an option. The goal for surgery is to remedy the cause of the sciatica. For example, if a herniated disc is putting pressure on the nerve, then surgery to correct the problem may relieve sciatica pain.
If sciatica symptoms are severe or become progressively worse, then immediate referral to a specialist is necessary.
Physical Therapy for Sciatica
Sciatica pain may make it difficult to be active. But bed rest is not recommended as a mainstay treatment. To manage new sciatica pain, you may find that certain positions and activities are more comfortable than others.
If symptoms are not severe but persist beyond a couple of weeks, your doctor may recommend physical therapy. The proper exercises may actually help reduce sciatic pain. They can also provide conditioning to help prevent the pain from coming back.
The exercises recommended will depend on what's causing the sciatica. It's important to work with a specialist who has experience working with people with sciatica. It's also important to do the exercises exactly as directed.
To get the proper direction, you will most likely work with one of the following specialists:
Physiatrist -- a doctor who specializes in physical medicine