Any kind of pain can be debilitating and affect your quality of life, but nerve pain can be particularly nasty. It is often felt as a shooting, burning, or stabbing pain and can significantly range in severity; some people might experience only mild, infrequent nerve pain, whereas others find it more excruciating. Certain types of nerve pain, such as sciatic pain, can affect your movements and your ability to complete routine daily tasks. When faced with this type of pain, there is only one question on the sufferer’s mind: how long does sciatic nerve pain last?
Sciatic Nerve Pain: What it is and How Long it Lasts
The sciatic nerve runs from the lower back through the hips and down the legs. Sciatic nerve pain occurs when pressure pushes down on this nerve or something pinches it. It affects between 10% to 40% of people at least once in their lifetime, so it’s essential to be aware of it.
Acute sciatic nerve pain usually only lasts a couple of weeks. However, during these couple of weeks, the patient may experience extreme nerve pain in their lower back and legs. Chronic sciatic nerve pain, on the other hand, lasts a lifetime. Generally, the pain is not quite as severe as acute sciatica, but it can still be debilitating and get in the way of a high quality of life. While chronic sciatic nerve pain lasts forever, there are many ways to manage it, including certain medications and exercises. Plus, the pain might come in cycles; a person might experience long periods with a lot of pain, followed by months with barely any.
The Symptoms of Sciatic Nerve Pain
- Lower back pain that spreads down the legs
- Numbness around the buttocks and legs
- Feelings of pins and needles in the legs
- Difficulty moving
- Incontinence (loss of bladder or bowel control)
If you think you have sciatic nerve pain, perhaps due to ticking off some of the symptoms listed above, you should see a doctor to get a proper diagnosis. At the doctor’s office, they will likely perform a physical exam, including walking tests, the leg raise test, and stretches. They might also recommend imaging tests for further confirmation, which might involve getting an x-ray or MRI. Doctors also commonly use electromyography to determine the cause of the pain.
It’s important to note that sciatic nerve pain generally only occurs in one side of the body at a time (such as your right buttock and leg). However, there are rare cases when a person experiences pain on both sides. In this case, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Sciatica Pain: Causes and Risk Factors
You now know sciatica pain happens when something puts pressure on the nerve. What causes that, though, and are there any risk factors? Here are the most common causes of sciatica pain:
A herniated disk – also known as a slipped disk – is one of the most common causes of sciatic nerve pain. It happens when the tissue between the spine moves out of place, putting pressure on the nerve. It requires medical treatment. Some severe cases require surgery, but that’s not always necessary.
Degenerative Disk Disease
Degenerative disk disease is a disease that occurs when the disks wear down over time. That leads to spinal stenosis, which pinches the sciatica nerve, which, in turn, causes pain in the sciatica.
Spondylolisthesis happens when one of the vertebrae slips and pinches the nerves. Treatment often involves painkillers and anti-inflammatory medication.
Another cause of sciatic nerve pain is an injury to the spine or the sciatic nerve itself. Falling or unsafe lifting are two common injuries that result in this, but plenty of injuries can lead to sciatic pain.
Of course, there are plenty of other causes of sciatic nerve pain, some rarer than others. For example, a tumor can cause it, but the chances of that are small compared to many other explanations.
Certain people are more at risk of getting sciatic nerve pain than others. Those who fit into any of the following categories should be more cautious when partaking in physical activities – particularly ones that involve straining. Here are the risk factors:
Being overweight can put more pressure on your spine, leading to a higher chance of developing sciatic nerve pain. Plus, you are more likely to strain when you are overweight, causing back issues in general and potentially putting pressure on the nerve.
Partaking in extreme sports is another risk factor. If a person gets injured during a sport, there’s a chance they could put pressure on the nerve, causing either acute or chronic sciatic pain. So, if you often do sports, it’s important to wear the appropriate safety gear and do the warm-ups beforehand.
People who lift heavy items for a living are also more at risk of sciatic pain, as one wrong lift can pinch the nerve. That’s why it’s important always to use the correct form when lifting anything, whether weights or heavy boxes.
Smoking causes weaker bones over time, damaging the spinal tissue, potentially leading to pressure on the sciatic nerve.
Many pregnant women experience sciatic pain (along with general back pain). This is because many changes happen within a woman’s body at this time, and there’s more chance of a slipped disc resulting in pinching of the sciatic nerve.
Treatment Options for Sciatic Nerve Pain
Fortunately, you don’t have to simply live with sciatic nerve pain, as there are many options for treatment. The treatment you receive depends on the type of pain you have (acute or chronic) and the severity. Some people are fine treating it at home with gentle stretches and over-the-counter pain medication, whereas others need more intensive treatments, with some even requiring surgery.
Doctors often prescribe muscle relaxants as a treatment for sciatica, as they reduce muscle spasms and relieve sciatic pain. They might also prescribe anti-inflammatory and antiseizure drugs in some cases.
Specific exercises can help reduce the pressure on the nerve. That’s why many people suffering from sciatic pain – especially chronic sciatica – often see a physical therapist. The exercises might include walking, swimming, stretching, and yoga.
One standard treatment option is steroid injections. In many cases, the steroid injection corticosteroid gets injected into the spine and acts as an anti-inflammatory, providing pain relief that can last up to three months.
In severe cases, spinal surgery may be required. This is only an option if no other treatment options work and the case is severe and ongoing. Spinal surgery (such as laminectomy or microdiscectomy) involves physically relieving the pressure on the nerves. Unfortunately, surgery means a long recovery period and certain risks, such as bleeding and blood clots. However, sometimes it’s necessary, especially if sciatica causes significant harm to a person’s quality of life.
Stem Cell Therapy for Sciatica Nerve Pain
Fortunately, there is an alternative to surgery that might produce results that are just as beneficial without the long recovery time – stem cell therapy. It is an effective, non-surgical treatment that helps new cells form, relieving the pressure on the nerve. It involves a simple injection into the targeted area, where the stem cells start to repair. Many people suffering from sciatic nerve pain find massive relief after this treatment. Plus, stem cell research is only getting more sophisticated by the day, leading to better outcomes every year.
When to See Your Doctor
Do you have sciatic nerve pain? Many cases can be treated at home with rest, gentle stretches, and painkillers. However, see your doctor if:
- The pain doesn’t go away after a couple of weeks
- The pain is unbearable
- You can’t do your usual daily activities
When you see a doctor, they will assess your case and devise an appropriate treatment plan.
Some cases require more emergency treatment. If you experience any of the following, seek medical attention immediately:
- Sciatic nerve pain on both sides
- Severe numbness
- Loss of bowel or bladder control
Preventing Sciatic Pain
Once you’ve experienced sciatica, you won’t want it again. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce your chances of getting it again in the future. Exercising regularly, maintaining correct posture, avoiding smoking, and maintaining a healthy weight will all do their part in minimizing your risk. If you are a heavy lifter, you must learn the safest technique and apply it every time.
Sciatic nerve pain can last anywhere from a couple of ways to an entire lifetime – it depends on whether it’s acute or chronic sciatica. It’s important to see a doctor to determine your case. Remember, you don’t have to live with the pain, as there are plenty of excellent treatment options to make living with sciatica more manageable. Plus, research only improves as time goes on, making treatment options like stem cell therapy even more sophisticated.