How to Treat Sciatic Nerve


Sciatic nerve pain or sciatica is a very painful condition though not life-threatening. The pain from sciatica is a sharp pain with numbness in the lower back that radiates to the buttocks and into the legs, often past the knee area. As you take a step and put pressure on one or both legs, the pain can be very intense. Most cases of sciatica are caused by nerve compression in the lower portion of the spine. Sciatica can be treated either conservatively at home or with surgery, which is the last option and reserved for severe cases.

Things You'll Need

  • Ibuprofen
  • Heating pad
  • Ice pack

Relaxing and resting is important when sciatica flares up; you should not repeat the movements that initially caused the pain. By continuing to move, or by doing the same things that caused the pain in the first place, you could be doing more damage to the spinal disc.

Take over-the-counter ibuprofen every 4 to 6 hours. This will help reduce the inflammation, which often accompanies sciatica. Ibuprofen will help decrease the pain (See Reference 1)

Treat the lower back area with alternating heat and cold. Begin with a heating pad on a medium setting and apply to the lower back for about 20 minutes. About 20 minutes later, apply an ice pack to the same area; remove and re-apply the ice pack in 5 minute intervals to avoid freezing the skin. Keep applying the ice pack this way for about 20 minutes. You can alternate between heating pad and ice pack several times throughout the day. The heat will relax the muscles while the cold will help with swelling. (See Reference 2)

Exercise with simple stretching, such as standing straight then bending and touching your toes, or as close to your toes as you can. If the pain intensifies, stop exercising. Another exercise is sitting on the floor with legs straight out, and touching your toes or as close to your toes as you can. Stretching can alleviate the pressure on the sciatic nerve. (See Reference 3)

Allow 6 to 12 weeks to see an improvement. If pain and discomfort continue, an alternative is to undergo surgery. This procedure is a last option when conservative measures have failed. (See Reference 3)

The surgical procedure for severe sciatica is lumbar microdiscectomy, in which the bulging or herniated disc that is pressing against the nerve fibers is removed. The surgery itself is not an invasive surgery and is performed with the use of a microscope. (See Resource 1)

Tips & Warnings

  • Preventing the return of sciatica is important since, once you have experienced it, sciatica is much more likely to recur if you do a lot of bending, twisting, and lifting of heavy objects. Most cases of sciatica can be effectively treated conservatively at home.
  • Use good judgment when treating sciatica at home; if you see no improvement, or if the pain is unbearable or intensifies, see your doctor immediately to rule out a more severe case of sciatica.

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