What causes sciatica?
Sciatica, also known as lumbar radiculopathy, is a term for pain that originates from the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve begins at the back of your pelvis and stretches down the length of the back of your thigh. This nerve is the largest in the body and the main nerve in the leg.
Pain along the sciatic nerve often feels like a dull ache, a mild tingling sensation, or a burning sensation. The pain may be mild or severe enough to prevent a person from moving freely. Sciatica pain usually occurs on one side of the body in part of the leg or hip, or even the back of the calf or foot sole.
Sharp pain sensations caused by sciatica may occur alongside numbness in other parts of the leg or buttocks. This numbness can cause people to feel weak and prevent them from lifting their feet well while walking.
Sciatica pain is caused by pressure on the sciatic nerve from a specific cause. The most common causes of sciatica include:
- Bulging or herniated discs
- Spinal stenosis
- Pelvic injury
- Poor posture
- An abscess or tumor along the nerve
- Other nerve disorders
It’s important to note that sciatica is not a disease in itself, but rather a symptom of some other condition.
How long does sciatica pain last?
As sciatica pain is a sign of something causing pressure to the sciatic nerve, the underlying cause must be treated for you to feel relief. Sciatica usually gets better one to two months after the onset of pain. More mild sciatic pain may begin to improve within two weeks.
The good news is that it’s common for sciatica symptoms to improve over time and certain treatments can accelerate improvement. Less back pain during daily activities and increased comfort while being physically active are two signs of sciatica improving.
Do you ever fully recover from sciatica pain?
Some people experience sciatica pain that comes and goes. Depending on what part of the sciatic nerve is being compressed, pain symptoms may be constant or fade in and out infrequently.
The time in which sciatica pain is being experienced can be excruciating and hinder your daily activities, but it rarely causes permanent nerve damage. Our pain management treatment plans are customized to each person with sciatica based on their individual experience, causes, and symptoms.
Tips to ease sciatica pain
Though preventing sciatica is your best bet to avoid this condition, there are some ways to ease sciatica pain once it has begun. In very mild cases, invasive treatment is not necessary and recovery will occur naturally. Most cases of sciatica do not require surgery, but your doctor may develop a plan for you that includes one of the following treatments.
Keeping your body in motion will help minimize inflammation. Bed rest is generally not recommended to treat sciatica. With any form of exercise or stretching treatment, it’s important to take movements slow to prevent further nerve damage.
Here are some exercises that may help ease sciatica pain:
- Pelvic tilts.
- Lie on your back with your legs bent, feet flat on the floor, and arms by your side.
- Using your abdominal muscles, press your back into the floor and rock the hips and pelvis slightly upward. Try to visualize making your belly button touch your backbone to get the form correct.
- Stay in this position for a few seconds while taking deep breaths, then release. Take a break and then repeat when you feel recovered.
- Glute bridges. Exercises that warm up the glute muscles can help release the tension on the sciatic nerve in the buttocks.
- Start on the floor in the same position as you were for the pelvic tilts.
- Leave both feet touching the floor, but push up through the heels, lifting your hips until your body forms a straight line from your knees to your shoulders.
- Hold this pose for five seconds and then slowly lower your hips to the floor.
With both of these exercises, it’s important to focus on maintaining the form without arching or rounding your back which can increase inflammation or sciatic pain.
Take stretching exercises slowly and focus on your breathing to avoid overstretching and causing more pain. Here are two great stretches that may help alleviate sciatic pain:
- Hamstring stretches.
- While holding onto something sturdy for support, stand up straight and put one foot on a higher surface, such as a stair step.
- Straighten the leg that is on the step and point the toes of that foot up toward the sky.
- Lean forward just a bit while keeping your back straight and breathe deeply for 30 seconds.
- Switch legs and repeat.
- Gluteal stretch.
- Lie down on your back with your legs bent, and feet flat on the floor.
- Raise your right ankle and cross it onto your left knee.
- Lace your fingers behind your left thigh and gently pull it toward you, while keeping your back and head on the floor.
- Practice breathing deeply for 30 seconds and then slowly release.
- Repeat with the other leg.
Hat and ice application
Certain forms of temperature therapy may provide some pain relief for those experiencing sciatic pain. The application of ice or cold compresses will provide some numbing relief to the nerve while heat from a warm compress will loosen tension.
When is it time to see a pain doctor about my sciatica?
It’s time to reach out to a professional for sciatica pain relief when it is affecting your daily activities or causing you consistent discomfort. Our pain doctors will take the time to listen to your pain and story and create an individualized treatment plan for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
How does it feel when sciatica is healing?
No longer experiencing pain in the leg, calf, foot, or buttocks and having less numbness in other areas impacted by the sciatic nerve are signs of sciatica improving.
How long does it usually take for a sciatic nerve to feel better?
Sciatica pain can improve in as little as 2 weeks or up to 3 months in more extreme cases. Treatment plans should be individualized to your experience and address the underlying cause of your sciatic nerve pain.
What are the last stages of sciatica?
Late-stage sciatica is chronic pain that lasts longer than 6 weeks without improvement.
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