How to Reduce Pain from Sciatica
Summit spine surgeon Roman Guerrero, M.D., talks about how people can find relief from sciatica.
Sciatica is a painful condition that can cause pain in the lower back, buttocks, the back of the thighs, and down the legs. It happens when the sciatic nerve gets compressed or irritated. In addition to pain, sciatica can cause numbness and tingling in the buttocks and legs.
“The first step in helping people relieve pain from sciatica is understanding exactly what symptoms they’re having and how long those have been going on,” Dr. Guerrero said. “Some people have been struggling for years with on-and-off symptoms, while other people experience acute, severe pain out of the blue. Treatment depends on the severity and acuity of the pain.”
Fortunately, there are many effective treatments that can reduce or eliminate sciatica.
First steps to relieve sciatica pain
Rest — For one week, try to restrict the movements that cause pain as much as you can. Talk with your employers about changing your duties, especially if your job involves a lot of lifting, bending, or climbing stairs.
Use ice — “Ice works great for pain, and it also helps with the inflammation that is causing symptoms,” Dr. Guerrero said.
Change your activities — Consider your nonwork activities, and make changes for a week — minimize any activities that involve bending and lifting, from grabbling laundry out of the dryer to picking up your kids.
Take NSAIDs — Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs include ibuprofen (brand names Motrin or Advil) and naproxen (brand name Aleve). Not only do they help relieve pain, but they also reduce the inflammation that is causing symptoms.
Next steps to relieve sciatica pain
Other medications — Depending on how severe the symptoms are, Dr. Guerrero may also suggest other medicines, including muscle relaxants for muscle spasms or a short course of a steroid or nerve pain medicine.
Physical therapy — Many patients underestimate how well physical therapy works, but, as Dr. Guerrero explains, it is essential to relieving sciatic nerve pain. “Physical therapy can be the most important part of treating this kind of problem,” he said.
The reason, according to Dr. Guerrero, is that physical therapy helps with a lot of things at the same time:
- Stretching makes more space for the nerves, reducing the problem’s cause.
- Physical therapy helps get the spine back into position, undoing the twisted mechanics that can happen as a result of pain.
- It can also help with gait, range of motion, and how to bend and lift properly.
With these simple steps, 90 percent of patients will get better without further treatment.
If the pain continues
If patients are still having symptoms, then Dr. Guerrero considers minimally invasive interventions, including steroid injections that deliver powerful anti-inflammatory medicine right to the irritated nerve. “Usually, patients respond really well to that,” Dr. Guerrero said. “For the 1 to 3 percent who do not, it may be time to discuss surgery.”
There are a wide variety of surgical options, depending on the condition that is causing the nerve compression. Talk with your Summit spine specialist about your options to treat sciatica pain. The good news is, most patients will experience pain relief well before that point.
Summit Orthopedics offers comprehensive spine expertise
Summit’s spine care team is recognized by the National Committee for Quality Assurance for the comprehensive expertise of our patient-centered care. Our back specialists diagnose spine problems and design custom treatment plans built on a conservative, nonsurgical approach. Most patients find relief through treatments including guided injections, specialized physical therapy, biofeedback, exercise, activity modification, and medication. When conservative care does not relieve symptoms, our highly skilled surgeons offer proven, evidence-based surgical options. Together with you, we will determine the right course of action.
Summit has convenient locations across the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, serving Minnesota and western Wisconsin. We have state-of-the-art centers for comprehensive orthopedic care in Eagan, MN, Plymouth, MN, Vadnais Heights, MN, and Woodbury, MN, as well as additional community clinics throughout the metro and southern Minnesota.
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