Sciatica Pain: How Long Does it Last and How to Relieve Symptoms
The term “sciatica” refers to pain in the lower back. Sciatica is a common condition affecting millions of Americans each year. However, there are many different types of sciatica, which vary from person to person.
Some types of sciatica may go away on their own, while others require medical treatment.
Some Types of Sciatica
There are two main types of sciatica: spinal stenosis (spondylolisthesis) and bursitis. Spinal stenosis occurs when the vertebrae in your spine don’t have enough room to move normally. Bursitis is inflammation of the bursae, or small sacs, at the bottom of your big toe bones.
These sacs help cushion your toes and protect them from injury. Both conditions can cause numbness and tingling in one or both legs. In addition, your leg or feet may feel weak.
Spinal stenosis and bursitis can both be caused by a trauma to the area, such as a car accident or fall. They can also develop over time due to aging.
Both spinal stenosis and bursitis can cause symptoms of sciatica, such as pain in your legs or back and difficulty walking. In addition, you may have weakness in one or both legs and numbness or tingling. However, the symptoms may be mild to severe and may affect one leg or both.
Treatments for Sciatica Due to Spinal Stenosis or Bursitis
If your doctor diagnoses you with spinal stenosis or bursitis, he may recommend specific treatments depending on your situation.
If you have spinal stenosis, your doctor may suggest non-surgical treatments. He may recommend physiotherapy to strengthen the muscles around your back and spine. If the pain is mild, your doctor may have you take over-the-counter pain medications.
He may also have you apply heat or cold to the painful area and take anti-inflammatory medications.
If your doctor believes that rest and pain medication aren’t enough, he may suggest surgery. During this surgery, your surgeon will remove the part of your spine that is putting pressure on the surrounding nerves. With this surgery, you should feel relief from the pain in your back and legs.
If you have bursitis, your doctor may suggest non-surgical treatments. He may recommend anti-inflammatory medications and a corticosteroid injection to relieve the inflammation. He may also recommend resting, icing and applying heat to the painful area.
If these treatments don’t relieve your pain, your doctor may suggest surgical intervention. During this surgery, your surgeon will remove any fragments of bone or other debris in the affected bursa and may release the tight tissue around the bursa as well. With surgery, you should notice that the pain is relieved and you have more movement in the affected area.
How Long Does Sciatica Last?
The length of time that sciatica lasts depends on the underlying cause. For example, if you have spinal stenosis or bursitis, your symptoms should start to improve within a few weeks after treatment. If the pain is caused by a herniated disk, however, you may need to undergo physical therapy for more long-term relief. With physical therapy, you can strengthen the muscles in your lower back and improve your mobility. In addition, your doctor can recommend ways to sit, stand and sleep to decrease strain on your back. You may experience pain occasionally after treatment, but you should notice a significant improvement in your pain levels.
It’s also important to keep your core muscles strong. You can do this by doing exercises, such as pilates and yoga. If you’re undergoing treatment for a herniated disk in your back, your doctor may refer you to a physical therapist who can show you various exercises that will strengthen the muscles in your lower back.
In fact, many physical therapists will give you a paper with exercises that you can do at home.
In addition, your doctor may recommend that you sleep on your stomach or side as opposed to your back. Sleeping on your stomach will take pressure off your spine and allow the nerves in your lower back to heal.
When to See a Doctor
If you experience symptoms of sciatica, you should see a physician right away. Ignoring the pain can cause further complications and may lead to surgery, so you want to have this checked out as soon as possible. Your physician will perform a physical examination and ask you questions about your medical history and the onset of your symptoms.
A neurological examination will also be performed to check the function of your nerves. If your physician detects symptoms of a herniated disk, spinal stenosis or degenerative disk disease, you may be referred to a neurosurgeon.
A few tests will need to be performed to confirm the diagnosis. These may include an MRI, CT scan or myelogram. Your physician will also perform blood tests to rule out other conditions that may be causing your pain, such as an infection or an autoimmune disorder.
After you’ve been diagnosed, your physician may suggest non-invasive treatments in the form of medication or physical therapy. If these don’t work, you may need surgery to remove some of the pressure on the nerves in your lower back. Physical therapy is usually recommended after surgery to make sure you don’t suffer from severe pain or loss of mobility in the future.
Sciatica is a condition that causes leg pain and numbness due to pressure on the sciatic nerve. It can be caused by a number of factors, including a herniated disk or spinal stenosis. There is no cure for sciatica, but there are several treatments that can relieve your symptoms and reduce the pain.
You should see a physician if you experience pain in your legs or numbness in the bottom half of your body.
Your physician may recommend a number of medical treatments to reduce your pain and increase mobility. Medications can be used to manage your pain and anti-inflammatory drugs can help reduce swelling in the nerve region. Your physician may also inject steroids around your spinal cord to reduce inflammation and allow the nerve root to heal.
A pain pump can also be implanted to deliver local anesthetic to the affected area.
Operations to Reduce Pressure on the Nerve
If the cause of your pain is a herniated disk or spinal stenosis, your physician may recommend surgery. During the operation, the herniated disk or bone spur that’s putting pressure on the nerve will be removed. The decompression of a spinal stenosis will also take pressure off of the nerve.
In exceptional cases, a laminectomy or partial removal of the vertebral bone will be necessary to relieve pressure on the nerve. In all of these procedures, the surgeon will take steps to preserve your nerves and keep functionality as intact as possible.
Physical Therapy and Other Rehabilitation Treatments
If you’ve had an operation to treat your sciatica, it’s very important that you comply with your physician’s physical therapy recommendations. Staying active and in motion will encourage the nerve to heal and regain lost function. Your physician may also prescribe medication to help you manage your pain during the recovery process.
In many cases, a combination of medical and physical therapy treatments are used to manage symptoms. These may include electrical stimulation, ultrasound therapy, and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS).
Sources & references used in this article:
Multicentre trial of physiotherapy in the management of sciatic symptoms by CE Coxhead, TW Meade, H Inskip, WRS North… – The Lancet, 1981 – Elsevier
Auto-Traction for Treatment of Lumbago-Sciatica: A Multicentre Controlled Investigation by …, A Lidström, G Lind, A Nachemson… – Acta Orthopaedica …, 1980 – Taylor & Francis
The efficacy of systematic active conservative treatment for patients with severe sciatica: a single-blind, randomized, clinical, controlled trial by HB Albert, C Manniche – Spine, 2012 – journals.lww.com