Sciatica denotes pain that radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve, which branches from the lower back, through the hips, buttocks, and down each leg. In most cases, sciatica affects only one side of your body. It commonly occurs when a herniated disk or a bone spur on the spine pinches part of the nerve. This causes inflammation, pain, and often some numbness in the affected leg. Although sciatic pain can be severe, most cases resolve themselves with treatments in a few weeks. People who continue to have severe sciatica after six weeks of treatment might be helped by surgery to relieve the pressure on the nerve.
Prescribed Treatments and Available Drugs
There are several treatments that your doctor may suggest for your sciatic pain.
- Medications: Muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatories, tricyclic antidepressants, narcotics, and anti-seizure medications are all used for sciatica.
- Physical therapy: When your pain improves, a physical therapist may design a rehabilitation program to help you prevent injuries from recurring. This program typically includes exercises to help correct your posture, strengthen the muscles supporting your back, and improve your flexibility.
- Hormone Injections: In some cases, your doctor may recommend injections of Corticohormones into the area around the involved nerve root. This type of medication helps reduce pain by suppressing inflammation around the irritated nerve. The results are temporary and you will be limited to the times you can have this done because of side effects.
- Surgery: This option is usually reserved for times when you have pain that progressively worsens or doesn’t improve with other therapies or when the nerve compression causes significant weakness, bowel or bladder incontinence. Through surgery, surgeons can remove the bone spur or the portion of the herniated disk that’s pressing on the pinched nerve.
Non-medical or alternative treatments are good options when you don’t want the influence of drugs upon your system. Here are two that help with chronic back pain.
- Acupuncture: Acupuncture is an ancient technique whereby hair-thin needles are inserted into your skin at specific points on your body. Some studies have suggested that acupuncture can help back pain, while others have found no benefit. If you decide to try acupuncture, choose a licensed practitioner to ensure that he or she has had extensive training.
- Chiropractic: Spinal adjustment, or manipulation, is one form of therapy chiropractors use to treat restricted spinal mobility. The goal is to restore spinal movement and, as a result, improve function and decrease pain. Spinal manipulation appears to be an effective and safe standard treatment for low back pain.
Self Help Treatments
Many cases of sciatica can be helped at home. First, try to think about what could have triggered the onset of the pain. Sometimes it is doing an activity that you haven’t done for quite a while or an activity that required you to do some heavy lifting, twisting, or reaching. If you can determine how the pain started, you will have an idea of what not to do the next time.
Next, rest up for a day or two and then resume your normal activities, being aware not to overdo. If you remain inactive too long, it will just aggravate the symptoms. Also, sometimes getting back into a routine may allow the cause of the pain to work itself out by itself. Many times, that is the way to fix the problem. However, here are some other treatments that can be done at home to help with sciatica pain.
- Cold packs: Initially, you may get relief from a cold pack placed on the painful area for up to 20 minutes several times a day. Use an ice pack or if you don’t have an ice pace, you can use a package of frozen peas wrapped in a clean towel.
- Hot packs: After two to three days, apply heat to the areas that hurt. Use hot packs, a heat lamp, or a heating pad on the lowest setting. If you continue to have pain, try alternating warm and cold packs.
- Stretching: Stretching exercises for your low back can help you feel better and may help relieve nerve root compression. Avoid jerking, bouncing, or twisting during the stretch and try to hold the stretch at least 30 seconds.
- Over-the-counter medications: Pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others) and naproxen (Aleve) are sometimes helpful for sciatica.
Although it is not always possible to prevent sciatica, there are things you can do to help prevent it from recurring or occurring in the first place.
- Regular Exercise: This is perhaps the most important thing you can do for your overall health as well as for sciatica. Pay special attention to your core muscles in your abdomen and lower back that are essential for proper posture and alignment. Ask your doctor to recommend specific activities.
- Maintain Proper Posture When You Sit: Choose a seat with good lower back support, arm rests, and a swivel base. You might place a pillow or rolled towel in the small of your back to maintain its normal curve. Try to keep your knees and hips level.
- Use Good Body Mechanics: Practicing good body mechanics will save you from many back aches and sciatica pain. If you stand for long periods, rest one foot on a stool or small box to change your stance. When you lift something heavy, let your legs do the work. Lift straight up and down, keep your back straight, and bend only at the knees. Hold the load close to your body. Avoid lifting and twisting simultaneously and find someone to help if the object is heavy or awkward.
Many treatments are available for sciatica. Medications, alternative treatments, self-help tips you can do at home, and certain preventive treatments can all be beneficial. Following these common sense approaches will help prevent many cases of sciatica.
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