Most cases of sciatica are caused by a compressed nerve in the lower body. It can be difficult to diagnose because some patients experience numbness and tingling in their legs as well, making it easy to confuse sciatica with other conditions.
There are various causes and risk factors for sciatica. However, there are preventative measures you can take and treatment options available if you are currently experiencing pain.
How Long Does Sciatica Last
In many cases, sciatic pain occurs due to a herniated disk in the lower back. The bones that make up your spine are held together by connective tissues. When these tissues wear down, pressure is put on your back and you begin experiencing pain.
Often, a herniated disc can be attributed to injury, medical conditions that affect your nerves as well as carrying heavy loads frequently.
Sciatica is usually acute and does not last more than 4-8 weeks, but if your pain does not go away after 2 months, you may need to visit a medical professional to discuss your options. In some cases, surgery is necessary because damaged nerves can impact the function of your bladder and can even lead to the loss of bowel function.
If your pain lasts for more than 3 months, it is possible you are suffering from chronic sciatica. Visiting your doctor is a crucial next step to begin pain management treatments or to schedule surgery if recommended.
Risk Factors For Sciatica
There are a few risk factors that can increase your chances of developing acute or chronic sciatica. These risk factors are:
- Being overweight or obese
- Type 1 and type 2 diabetes
- Old age
If you carry more weight, more pressure will be put on your spinal cord. Even pregnant women can suffer from sciatica due to the extra weight they carry for the duration of their pregnancy.
Frequent episodes of high or low blood sugar levels can also lead to nerve damage. The risk of developing sciatica increases with age, as most sciatica sufferers are between 40 and 50 years old. Lifting too much and sitting for long periods of time can put pressure on your nerves as well.
With proper care and treatment, the symptoms of acute sciatica usually do not last longer than four to eight weeks. In fact, most healthcare experts believe that with proper treatment, sciatica will go away on its own. Data reveals that approximately half of people with acute sciatica will recover within six weeks. But, if the pain persists for more than eight weeks, imaging tests such as an X-ray or MRI may be necessary to help identify what is compressing the sciatic nerve and causing the symptoms.
Even acute sciatica can leave someone unable to complete daily tasks or even keep them from maintaining a job. Although it usually does not last for more than a couple of months, acute sciatica sufferers still need help with pain management.
Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory painkillers can work as a temporary solution to reduce inflammation until your nerve roots heal. Pain medications are a great option to fight inflammation and help you live your life with less pain. It is also recommended to place cold packs on your lower back to decrease inflammation as well.
However, one of the most effective treatments for sciatica is to increase your daily activity level. If you remain sedentary, your nerves will likely stay irritated for a longer period of time. Increasing your activity can reduce nerve irritation and inflammation.
If anti-inflammatory medications and cold packs do not provide relief, ask your doctor if steroid injections or muscle relaxers are right for you. In some cases, acute sciatica also responds positively to acupuncture and physical therapy.
If your sciatica pain lasts for more than 3 months, your doctor may recommend an x-ray to further examine what is compressing your nerves and causing you pain.
Chronic sciatica can cause debilitating pain and weakness in your legs, which can decrease your quality of life.
There is a wide variety of treatment options, which usually involve a combination of lifestyle changes and medication. Your doctor may recommend the following:
- Acupuncture, chiropractic care, or physical therapy
- Steroid shots
- Therapy to better manage your reaction to pain
- Anti-inflammatories and painkillers
If these pain management therapies fail to provide you relief, surgery may be your next step. There are two surgical options: lumbar laminectomy and discectomy.
However, not all chronic sciatica sufferers are good candidates for surgery. A medical professional will need to look at your medical records and assess your risks.
Sciatica pain, depending on the cause, can last for a few weeks or even a lifetime as well as keep you from maintaining a job and your current lifestyle.
The first step to treating your pain is to find out what is causing it. In some cases, if your sciatica is managed well, your pain might disappear.
Choosing the proper recovery program for sciatica pain is essential to returning to health. Treatments for sciatica depend on the underlying cause and the severity of the pain. That is why working with qualified and knowledgeable health professionals who can develop a personalized plan is critical to for optimum recovery. One patient’s treatment options may be very different than those of another. The goal of a rehabilitation program is to decrease pain and increase mobility. A complete plan can include a range of options such as:
- Physical therapy. In physical therapy, it is important that a trained professional evaluate and treat the condition. Stretching and strengthening movements help alleviate sciatic pain. Stretches target muscles that cause pain when they are tight and inflexible. Exercises that strengthen the core and back muscles are beneficial as well and may help prevent future flare-ups.
- Water therapy. Water’s natural buoyancy helps lighten the weight of the body when moving. Activities such as lifting your legs are a great deal easier in water and there is less chance of injury. The viscosity of water provides natural resistance, allowing simple exercises to go farther in building strength.
- Medication. This can include both over-the-counter or prescription medications. Also, oral steroids can reduce the inflammation that is usually part of the cause of pain.
- Injections. such as an epidural steroid may help reduce inflammation and temporarily eliminate the pain. These types of injections work to reduce swelling and inflammation of the nerve roots, allowing for increased comfort and mobility.
- Prevention. The old saying is true; “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” So, practice these healthy lifestyle strategies:
- Exercise regularly to maintain strength in your back
- Maintain a good posture
- Avoid bending over to lift heavy objects
- Maintain a healthy diet since obesity and diabetes are risk factors for sciatica
Treating sciatica requires the expertise of pain specialists. Arizona Pain and Spine Institute specializes in pain management and offers personalized solutions for sciatica and other conditions. Our team includes highly trained, compassionate providers. We are a committed and skilled staff of pain management doctors and experts who will help you find answers to existing pain. To learn more, visit our website to see what our clients say about us.
If you are suffering from sciatica or any type of condition that is causing you pain, we can help. At Arizona Pain and Spine, our professional, knowledgeable and experienced pain specialists provide safe and effective pain management and individualized treatment solutions. Our mission is to improve every patients’ quality of life by alleviating and managing their pain. Call us now at (480) 986-7246 and schedule an appointment with one of our experienced pain management specialists today to begin your road to a pain-free life.