Sciatica: Treatment Options

Sciatica is characterised by pain in the lower back and gluteal region (buttocks). This pain can radiate down one or both legs into the thigh, calf, ankle, and foot. Genuine sciatica occurs when pain travels below the knee.

Sciatic pain results when spinal nerve roots in the lower spine compress the sciatic nerves. The sciatic nerves are located in in the lumbar (low back) and the sacral (sacrum) regions of the spine. Sciatic pain or sciatica can be described as sharp, dull, burning, tingly, numb, continuous, or intermittant and usually affects only one side of the body. It can radiate the entire length of the nerve, in some cases all the way down to the toes.

Sciatic pain is most often caused by a lumbar herniated disc, spinal stenosis, or in rare cases, spinal infection or tumor.  The cause of pain determines your treatment options to relieve sciatica.


Number (1) Sciatic Nerve in yellow
Number (2) Sacrum
Number (3) Hip Bone

Yellow = Nerve Structures
Red Structures = Arteries
Blue Structures = Veins

Stay Active

Those with lower back pain have historically been prescribed bed rest in order to offer relief for aching bones and joints. Research in recent years has suggested that bed rest alone will not offer relief for those suffering from nerve pain such as sciatica.

Staying active may be more beneficial for those who suffer from back pain. Not to say that you should be running marathons! Activity means being up and mobile for periods of time that are not enough to cause further pain and aggravation to your back. Some physicians may prescribe specific exercises, or some may simply suggest walking.

Non-Surgical Sciatica Treatments

Pain is best treated with a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen.

In some cases a cortisone-like drug may be injected into the epidural space surrounding the spinal column. This procedure is similar to the epidural used during childbirth, and it's called an epidural steroid injection. A course of this type of treatment may offer temporary relief, but does not address the root of the problem.

Sciatica Surgery

Some patients with sciatica may find significant relief from surgery. In cases of herniated discs, a surgical procedure called a laminectomy may be performed. In this procedure, a portion of the posterior arch is removed to relieve pressure on pinched nerve tissues.

In cases of spinal stenosis, the portion of bone that is putting pressure on the sciatic nerve system can be removed.

Surgery is not for everyone. However, for those who have shown no sign of improvement in four to six weeks and who have had CT scans (computed tomography) or MRI that show a herniated disc or spinal stenosis, surgery may offer significant relief.

Updated on: 02/26/19
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Drugs, Medications, and Spinal Injections to Relieve Sciatica
Sciatica is defined as a severe pain in the leg along the course of the sciatic nerve. The pain is felt in the back of the leg running from the buttock down the back of the thigh into the calf and foot. The pain may begin abruptly or gradually and is characterized by a sharp, shooting, or electric shock-like quality. Movement of the extremity often intensifies the pain.

The pain may be uniformly distributed along the limb, but frequently there are certain spots where it is more intense. The pain is often associated with numbness and/or tingling in the distribution of the sciatic nerve.

Sciatica may result from any process which causes pressure or irritation of the nerve roots which compromise the sciatic nerve. This pressure may result from a variety of processes such as a ruptured intervertebral disc, narrowing of the boney spinal canal (called spinal stenosis), or rarely from infection or tumor.

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Drugs, Medications, and Spinal Injections to Relieve Sciatica

Painful sciatica may be treated using certain medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and/or an epidural steroid spinal injection. The lumbar (low back) epidural injection may help reduce nerve inflammation that causes leg pain.
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