Sciatica, a symptom rather than a condition, stems from the sciatic nerve, which is the longest nerve in the body. It begins in the spinal cord and runs down the legs, although it typically affects just one leg when flare-ups begin. According to Dr. Stephen Hochschuler of website Spine-Health, symptoms can occur infrequently, while for others they can be severe and debilitating. In most cases, symptoms last a few weeks or months and go away on their own, requiring the sufferer to find a way to deal with the pain until then.
Rest for the first two days. When sciatica first strikes, the pain may be severe, leaving you longing for your bed. The first day or two, this is OK, but Hochschuler warns that anything longer than this can worsen your pain. He says regular movement is a vital aspect of the healing process, as it helps deliver healing nutrients to the structures causing your pain.
Combine heat and ice. Ice packs help reduce the inflammation surrounding the sciatic nerve, thus relieving your pain, while heat improves circulation to the injury, which helps heal it with nutrients. For the first two to three days, wrap an ice pack in a towel and apply it to the injury for 20 minutes every two hours. On the fourth day, switch to a heat source such as a heating pad, applying it for the same length of time. Hochschuler recommends alternating the two if the pain does not improve. MayoClinic.com suggests calling your doctor within a week if your condition worsens, or if you experience a complete loss of feeling in your leg.
Use an over-the-counter medication. The type of medication you choose is completely up to you, but acetaminophen (Tylenol) relieves only the pain, while ibuprofen (Advil) relieves both inflammation and pain. Both have their side effects. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if you take it in excess, while ibuprofen can lead to stomach ulcers and bleeding. Consult with your doctor before taking either if you are taking various prescription medications.
Consider a prescription pain killer. If you experience very severe cases of sciatica, you may need a stronger pain reliever until the symptoms pass. MayoClinic.com says your doctor may prescribe a stronger anti-inflammatory along with a muscle relaxant. The site adds that he may feel a narcotic pain reliever--such as hydrocodone--may be necessary on a short-term basis until the pain subsides.
Undergo a spinal adjustment. Hochschuler explains that specialists such as a physical therapist, chiropractor or osteopathic physician can perform a spinal adjustment, which ultimately helps repair a variety of underlying conditions that are responsible for your sciatic nerve pain. Known as manual manipulation, when these professionals perform it correctly, it should not be painful and should create a better healing environment.