The sciatic nerve starts at your spinal cord and runs through your hips down into your legs. It is the longest nerve in your body and one of the most susceptible to irritation. Sciatica is often symptomatic of a different issue such as a pinched nerve resulting from a herniated disc. It is important that you and your doctor find a proper diagnosis for the origination of your sciatica. In the process, pain management can help you maintain your daily activities with minimal interruption.
The first course of pain management with sciatica is over-the-counter pain medication. These include anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and naproxen sodium (Aleve). These are often combined with cold compresses to reduce the swelling of the nerve. Over-the-counter medications may not be strong enough for many who suffer from sciatica.
If over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications do not alleviate your sciatica pain, talk to your doctor about stronger pain medications. There are several options available depending on your level of pain and duration of chronic sciatica. Prescription anti-inflammatory medications are available. Other types of medication include muscle relaxants to help release pressure on the nerve. Narcotic drugs are sometimes prescribed on a short-term basis for pain relief. Antidepressants and anticonvulsant medications are also used to block pain and increase natural endorphins that ease pain.
The body has the ability to fight pain and reduce swelling by producing hormones called cortisone and hydrocortisone. These are produced in the adrenal glands to suppress inflammation. Your doctor may prescribe an epidural steroid injection that uses a corticosteroid that mimics your natural anti-inflammatory hormones. This injection is done via a 20-minute procedure at your doctor's office where cortisone is injected directly into the epidural cavity to fight swelling at the source of inflammation.
Effectiveness of Medication
Pain medication is a short-term solution. It alleviates pain but should not be a replacement for finding a solution to the problem causing the sciatica. Taking over-the-counter and prescription medications for sciatica for longer than a few months can lead to liver problems and stomach irritation. Use of stronger medications may lead to dependency and drug addiction. Epidural steroid injections provide relief for weeks at a time but can cause degenerative damage if used too frequently. Talk to your doctor about finding a solution to your sciatica.
Sciatica may be the result of a variety of medical issues, such as a herniated disc, pelvic instability or bone spurs. You may also have a tumor on your spine or have long-term effects from an accident. Your doctor should be able to develop a physical therapy program to alleviate pressure from building on the sciatic nerve. In rare cases such as bone spurs, tumors or severely herniated discs, you may require surgery. Talk to your doctor to make sure your sciatica is not causing long-term damage to the peripheral nerve function in your leg.