Skip to main content

What is Sciatica Pain and How Can It Be Treated?

Sciatica pain is one of the most common types of back pain. According to the Harvard Medical School, up to 40% of people experience this particular pain at least once in their lifetime.
The good news is that it seldom requires surgery. Most people are able to resolve the pain from the comfort of their own homes. Below, you’ll find more information about what sciatica pain is and what you can do if you experience it.

What is Sciatica Pain?

To put it simply, it is a pain in your leg that can come from your back. It starts in the low back and extends through the buttocks radiating down the back of your leg. It is caused because something is irritating the sciatic nerve, which is a large nerve that goes from the end of the spine down the back of each leg.

Typically, sciatica pain only affects one side of your body. The intensity of the pain can vary. Some people only experience mild pain. Others feel sharp and intense pain, like an electric shock. Some report having excruciating pain in many instances.

Some other possible symptoms include:

  • Inflammation
  • Tingling (“pins and needles”) in the affected leg
  • Weakness in the affected leg
  • Numbness in the affected leg

Keep in mind that prolonged sitting or sudden movements, such as coughing or sneezing, can exacerbate the pain. Be gentle with yourself as you work through the pain to find relief.

What Causes Sciatica Pain?

Sciatica pain can be caused by a number of things, which may include:

  • Herniated or slipped disk putting pressure on the sciatic nerve
  • Injury to the lower back or sciatic nerve
  • Bone spur on the spine causing irritation to the sciatic nerve
  • Narrowing of the spine (lumbar stenosis) compresses the spinal cord and nerves due to limited space

In addition to the above possible causes, there are other risk factors that may create a higher likelihood that you’ll experience sciatica pain. These may include:

Age: As we get older, we are more likely to experience this type of pain as natural damage occurs to bones, tissue, and nerves.

Weight: If you are someone who is carrying around extra weight, it puts additional stress on the infrastructure of your body. This additional strain can increase your chance of having back problems, including sciatica pain.

Occupation: If you have a highly physical job, especially one that requires heavy lifting, it can put increased strain on the lower back resulting in sciatica pain.

Prolonged sitting: If you sit for long periods of time every day without moving your body and stretching your muscles, it can increase your chance of developing sciatica pain.

Diabetes: A side effect of diabetes is nerve damage, which can increase your risk of sciatica pain.

Can I Prevent Sciatica Pain?

There is no guaranteed way to prevent you from ever experiencing sciatica pain. However, there are things that you can do to decrease your chance of feeling it. Here are four recommendations:

  1. Exercise regularly to keep your back and core muscles strong
  2. Stretch properly after working out or conducting any strenuous activities
  3. Use a proper sitting posture
  4. Practice good body mechanics (i.e., lift with your knees and not with your back)

How Can Sciatica Pain Be Treated?

As mentioned previously, the majority of people who experience sciatica pain do not need surgery. Most people are able to recover within several weeks using at-home remedies, alternative therapies, and medication.

At-home Remedies

Here are possible things you can do at home to alleviate the pain:

Stretching: Gently stretching your lower back can take pressure off of your sciatic nerve. Check out our previous article “Healthy and Safe Ways to Stretch Out Your Spine” for stretches to use. Try to stretch several times a day. When you stretch, take it to the point you feel the pull and hold the stretch for up to 30 seconds. Over time, you should be able to stretch farther and hold it longer.

Ice and heat: For the first two to three days, use ice packs to reduce inflammation and pain. Apply a towel-wrapped ice pack, or bag of frozen veggies, to the lower back for 15 to 20 minutes several times a day. After two to three days of using ice, transition to using heat to help relax the muscles. Use the hot pack, or a heating pad, just like you did with the ice 15 to 20 minutes several times a day. If you are still experiencing significant pain after two to three days of heat, start alternating the ice and heat.

Over-the-counter medications: As needed, use over-the-counter medications to help manage the pain. Acetaminophen, such as Tylenol, and NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), such as aspirin or ibuprofen, can be taken as recommended on the packaging. Do not use them for extended periods.

Alternative Therapies

In addition to the at-home remedies above, these alternative therapies have been known to help alleviate sciatica pain. If you are interested in trying one, find a local licensed practitioner.

Chiropractor: Spinal manipulation, and other techniques, are used to adjust the spine for better alignment. Adjustments may help relieve some sciatica pain.

Yoga: Using gentle yoga poses, stretches, and breathing techniques can help release pressure on the sciatica nerves and calm the body.

Massage therapy: Getting a massage can help improve blood circulation and relax tightened muscles in the affected areas.

Acupuncture: Very thin needles are strategically placed in your skin. This has been known to decrease pain and discomfort in certain areas, such as the lower back.

When Should I See a Doctor?

If you find that the over-the-counter medication is not helping with the pain, schedule an appointment with your doctor. They might be able to provide a prescription for muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatories, steroid injections, or narcotics. As with all medication, be sure to follow the instructions on the bottle for dosage and usage.

In addition to assistance with medication, you should also see your doctor if you experience the following:

  • The pain does not subside after several weeks or it gets worse.
  • You experience significant leg weakness.
  • You notice a change in your normal bladder or bowel movements.

Although surgery is not common, 5 to 10% of people with sciatica pain do need surgery to fix the root cause of the pain.

If you are experiencing sciatica or any other type of back pain, we at Dickinson Neurological would love to answer your questions. We can also schedule a consultation if you reside in east Idaho. Don’t hesitate to contact our office for any questions, comments, or concerns regarding your bodily health.

Back to top