Sciatic nerve pain
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Why It Hurts

Sciatic nerves go from your lower back into your legs. When something presses on them, like a slipped disk or a bone spur, you get sciatica. You might have a burning sensation, numbness,  weakness, or pain. Some people say it feels like pins and needles, while others say it's more like getting an electrical shock or being stabbed with a knife. However it feels to you, there are many ways to get relief.

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monthly calendar
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Give It Time

"Wait and see" might not be what you want to hear when you're in pain, but it works. The passage of time is probably the best proven treatment. About 80%-90% of people with sciatic nerve pain get better within a few weeks.

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woman stretching
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Stand Up

While a little extra pampering may be in order, don't stay off your feet for long. Too much bed rest can weaken your muscles. If you don't feel up to your usual workout, it's smart to listen to your body's signals. But try not to sit a lot or the pain might get worse.

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Seniors on treadmill
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Keep Moving

If your pain isn't too severe, it's a good idea to stretch, go for short walks, and do any other physical activities that you feel up to. It's especially important to try to stretch your lower back, since that's where something may be pinching your sciatic nerve.

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heating pad
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Heat Things Up or Cool Them Down

Hot and cold may be opposites, but both can help keep you comfortable. Cold treatment is usually best for an injury that just happened. After about 72 hours, doctors usually suggest switching to heat. Use an ice pack that's wrapped in a towel or try a heating pad for about 15-20 minutes at a time. Be careful not to burn your skin. 

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ibuprofen pills
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Try Over-the-Counter Meds

NSAIDs like ibuprofen and naproxen may help ease your pain as well as bring down inflammation. Take the dose on the drug's label unless your doctor gives you special instructions.

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doctor with patient
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Ask About a Prescription

If home remedies aren't helping, talk to your doctor. There are many prescription meds, like muscle relaxers and higher-strength NSAIDs, that might make you feel better. Anti-seizure drugs, like gabapentin, also seem to help some people.

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physical therapy session
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Work With a Physical Therapist

Physical therapy can help you correct poor posture or strengthen the muscles that support your lower back. The therapist will create an exercise program, including stretching techniques, that you can do at home. 

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epidural procedure
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Get an Epidural

Still not feeling better? Your doctor may suggest you get an epidural injection -- a shot of steroid medication into your spine -- especially if you've been in pain for more than 6 months. Studies show mixed results, though, about how well it works. Talk to your doctor about the pros and cons.

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acupuncture therapy
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Give Acupuncture a Try

This ancient Chinese medicine practice is starting to gain respect from mainstream Western doctors, and for good reason. Some research shows that it may work even better than traditional treatment for back pain. There's little risk as long as you find a licensed practitioner.

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yoga session
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Take a Yoga Class

It may not be a cure-all, but it might help you feel better. Try a type called Iyengar yoga, which  emphasizes good posture. Research shows that it cuts pain and lets you move around more easily.

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massage
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Get a Massage

A professional rubdown isn't just about relaxation. Research shows that massage therapy  eases pain and improves how well you can move your lower back. It also helps get blood flowing, which encourages your body to heal itself. Find a therapist who specializes in back pain and can also work some assisted stretching into your session.

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Counseling session
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Take Charge of Stress

No, the pain isn't "all in your head," but your emotions can play a role. Stress causes your muscles to tense up and also makes the pain seem worse. Biofeedback, which shows you how your thinking and behavior affects your breathing and heart rate, might offer some relief. You could also try cognitive behavioral therapy. You'll work with a mental health expert who will help you change your behaviors and thoughts.

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Woman checking thermometer
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When to Call Your Doctor

Usually sciatica is painful but not dangerous. But there are times you'll want to call your doctor right away. Get in touch with him if you have a fever, blood in your urine, trouble controlling your bowels or bladder, or pain that's so bad it wakes you up at night.

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Woman talking to doctor
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Signs You Might Need Surgery

Most people with sciatica don't need surgery. But your doctor may suggest it if you have trouble walking, lose control of your bladder or bowels, or your pain gets worse and other treatments don't help. The best procedure depends on what's causing your symptoms. The most common one removes the part of your herniated disk that's pressing on the sciatic nerve.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 5/11/2018 Reviewed by Tyler Wheeler, MD on May 11, 2018

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SOURCES:

American Council on Exercise: "Understanding Sciatica."

American Family Physician: "Treatments for Sciatica."

Annals of Internal Medicine: "Epidural Corticosteroid Injections in the Management of Sciatica: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis."

Barking, Havering and Redbridge Hospitals: "Sciatica."

BMJ: "Drugs for Relief of Pain in Patients with Sciatica: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis."

Cochrane.org: "Advice to Rest in Bed Versus Advice to Stay Active for Acute Low-Back Pain and Sciatica."

Cleveland Clinic: "Sciatica and Leg Pain," "Sciatica: Management and Treatment."

Hospital for Special Surgery: "Sciatica."

International Journal of Yoga: " Effectiveness of Iyengar Yoga in Treating Spinal (Back and Neck) Pain: A Systematic Review."

North American Spine Society: "Back Pain and Emotional Distress."

Mayo Clinic: "Sciatica."

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Sciatica."

Pacific College of Oriental Medicine: "Massage for Sciatica: Pain Relief and Prevention."

University of Florida Health: "Sciatica."

University of Utah Health: "Sciatica."

Reviewed by Tyler Wheeler, MD on May 11, 2018

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.