When a spinal column discs ruptures, becomes herniated, or is injured in any sort of way, there is the possibility that the disc will place pressure on the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is the large nerve that runs from the lower back down to the legs. When the sciatic nerve becomes irritated, the symptom known as sciatica presents itself. Sciatic nerve pain can usually be relieved by:
- Taking Pain Killers
- Strengthening the muscles of the back, abdomen, and legs (most commonly known as the body's core muscles)
- Reducing Inflammation
- Healing or repairing an injury or natural degradation of the spinal column
- Preventing a spinal injury before it happens
Taking Pain Killers
There are multiple forms of painkillers that can be taken to help relieve sciatica pain. There are over-the-counter oral pain medications, topical analgesic solutions, and prescription medications. It is important to know the risks and common side effects of taking any medication, even when they are over-the-counter analgesics. The most common risks are:
- Possible long term liver damage
- Drowsiness may occur
- Adverse reactions with other remedies
- May be unsafe to take while pregnant
Over the counter medications may be taken to relive light to moderate pain, to reduce swelling, and to reduce inflammation. The most common over-the-counter medications are acetaminophen (brand name Tylenol), and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) including: Asprin, Ibuprofen (brand names including Motrin and Advil), and Naproxen (brand name Aleve).
Topical analgesic gels, also known as counterirritants, come in either a cream, gel or spray-on application. These solutions help stimulate the nerve endings near the top layer of skin. They often times provide a warm or cooling sensation that is intended to dull the pain being experienced. Some of these topical solutions will also help to reduce inflation if they contain NSAIDs. These topical solutions will only treat very mild sciatic nerve pain.
Opioid medications are stronger medications that require a doctor's prescription. Opioids have the potential to be very addicting, so should only be used for a short period of time. Opioids should only be taken during acute sciatic nerve pain attacks, more commonly known as flare-ups. Common opioid medicines available with a prescription from a medical physician are, hydrocodone (brand name Vicodin), oxycodone, and morphine.
Strengthening the Core Muscles
Strengthening the core muscles is arguably the best way to prevent sciatica flare-ups. When the core muscles are strong, they help the spine to remain flexible and help hold spinal tissue away from the sciatic nerve. A huge plus of strengthening the core muscles is that it does not require an expensive gym membership. Exercise and stretches can be done at home with little to no equipment.
Reducing the circulation and inflammation of the muscles and tissue surrounding the sciatic nerve helps to reduce the pressure on the nerve which will in turn assist in eliminating some pain. There are various ways to help reduce inflation including:
- Hot and cold packs
- Oral anti-inflammatory medications
- Topical anti-inflammatory creams / gels / sprays
Although hot and cold packs do not provide immediate pain relief, they do help to reduce swelling and inflammation of the muscles surrounding the sciatic nerve. As soon as flare-up or injury occurs, a source of cold relief in the form of an ice pack, ice bag, or even a bag of frozen vegetables should be applied to the affected area in regular intervals for 2-3 days. After the repeated rounds of ice, heat should be applied to the area in short intervals to help stimulate blood flow. Heat packs, heating pads, or even warm baths can be used.
Over-the-counter oral and topical medications that contain NSAIDs can help reduce inflammation and swelling. Stronger, more aggressive, steroidal medications can be prescribed by a doctor if over-the-counter medications are not strong enough. Using either version of anti-inflammatory medications for extended periods of time come with their own risk, such as stomach and liver damage.
Surgery should be considered only after all alternative treatments have failed, and the surgery has a low risk further injury. Surgery can be performed evasively or invasively. Invasive surgery usually comes with a lower success rate and lower risk levels, while evasive surgery usually requires hospital stays and long-term recovery. Only you and your doctor can determine whether surgery is a viable option to help relieve your sciatica pain.
Preventing a back injury before it happens is probably the easiest and least painful way of avoiding sciatica pain. Make sure to sit and stand using good posture, lift heavy objects properly, and avoid strenuous activities. These preventive measures will help you avoid sciatica pain before it starts. There are some injuries that can not be avoided, such as being in a car accident, but there are plenty of injuries that can. Use your head before you act and you can avoid a life full of pain.