Sciatica is a condition that occurs when the root of the sciatic nerve--the largest nerve in the human body--is compressed. Sciatica symptoms can develop when an intevertebral disc herniates, or protrudes, and irritates or impinges on the sciatic nerve root. The result of this pressure on the nerve can be crippling back pain that extends through the hip, down the leg and sometimes into the foot. The symptoms of sciatica can take weeks to subside. There are things you can do, however, to aid in the healing process and eventually cure your bout of sciatica.
Visit a doctor to determine if your sciatica is a symptom of a more-serious back condition. A physician may conduct a thorough examination and ask for a detailed description of your symptoms to rule out any potentially serious problems, including a herniated disc, degenerative disc disease or spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the spinal canal).
You can treat sciatica at home by taking over-the-counter pain medications such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin. Ice packs may also help to ease the pain of sciatica and calm the inflamed nerves. A heating pad can be beneficial as well; consider alternating cold and heat on the most painful areas to ease discomfort.
Depending on your level of discomfort, you may need to take prescription medications to help ease the pain of sciatica. These can include narcotics, muscle relaxants and prescription-strength anti-inflammatory medications.
You may be prescribed a course of physical therapy to improve strength and flexibility in your back and alleviate sciatica pain. You may also undergo a series of epidural steroid injections to ease nerve inflammation and irritation.
You may wish to consider alternative treatments for your sciatica symptoms. Common alternative therapies for sciatica include acupuncture, massage, chiropractic care and hypnosis.
If your sciatica pain is not alleviated by conservative methods, or if an MRI indicates a problem involving severe nerve compression, you may be advised to have back surgery. A surgeon may perform an operation called a laminotomy with discectomy to remove any part of a disc herniation that is pressing on the sciatic nerve.
Slow, gentle stretching may help ease sciatica pain. Be patient--sciatica may take some time to subside. Once the sciatica pain is gone, maintain a regular exercise regimen. Try to maintain correct posture at all times.
Tell your doctor about any over-the-counter medications you are taking to treat your sciatica. Don't overdo it if you are in pain; rest if you are hurting and only do activities you can tolerate. Avoid jerky movements when stretching. Be especially careful when bending and do not twist as you bend; this can aggravate sciatica.