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What are the Different Types of Sciatica Treatment?

By Alex Terris
Updated May 17, 2024
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There are a number of different types of sciatica treatment. Some of the most effective include icing, non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, exercises, and compression of the injured area. Painkillers such as paracetamol can also be used. The condition can generally be treated at home, although severe cases may require physical therapy or surgery.

In general, there are two types of sciatica, acute and chronic. Chronic sciatica occurs over a long period of time, but acute symptoms appear relatively quickly. Acute sciatica treatment usually involves self help techniques, while chronic conditions often require greater input from medical professionals.

Icing the injured area is a sciatica treatment that is usually only effective if the condition is acute. In some cases, heat packs may also help the pain. This type of treatment often works best if the packs provide compression as well as a temperature change. Icing is thought to be most effective in the first 48 hours after symptoms appear.

NSAIDs can also help reduce the pain. Over-the-counter medicine may be all that may be required, but in more severe cases a doctor may prescribe stronger painkillers. Painkilling drugs can help reduce the symptoms and make life more comfortable, but will usually not solve the underlying problem.

A common mistake when a person is trying to self-treat sciatica is to stop all activity. This can actually increase pain and the time taken for recovery. If possible, those with both acute and chronic sciatica should perform gentle exercises and stretch muscles of the back and shoulder. Long periods of sitting should be avoided, as this can cause the muscles to tighten.

Chronic sciatica treatment often requires care from a physiotherapist or other healthcare professional, as a formal strengthening and stretching routine will usually be needed. Physical therapy for sciatica typically involves strengthening back muscles. Increasing flexibility of the back may also be important. In some cases, a physical therapist or chiropractor may perform “manipulations” of the back to reduce pressure on the nerve causing the pain.

In severe cases of sciatica, surgery may be required. This is usually only the case for chronic sciatica since there are always risks involved with surgery. Due to these additional risks, surgery may not be recommended unless the condition is greatly affecting a person’s quality of life or if the symptoms are getting worse. In general, surgery is a last-resort sciatica treatment and only after physical therapy has failed to make a difference.

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