There are over 100 billion nerves in the human body, but by far the longest and thickest is the sciatic nerve. It runs from the lower back through the buttocks and thighs, right down to the feet. Because it’s such a prominent nerve, it’s no surprise that it can cause a significant amount of pain. This condition is called Sciatica, and the pain may arise due to trauma, compression or inflammation of the nerve, bulging or slipped discs, tumors, and a number of other medical and spinal conditions (studies show that a lifetime of sitting on a wallet can even be the culprit).Sciatica usually results in a shooting pain that travels from the lower back, through the backside of one leg, and into the foot, but it can also take the form of a dull, throbbing pain or quick “icepick” stabs depending on the causes.
Non-Surgical Treatments for Sciatica
While surgery may be required under certain circumstances (more on that in a minute), the good news is that most people experiencing Sciatica can find relief through non-surgical means. There are several standard medical therapies as well as numerous alternative treatments that some Sciatica sufferers swear by. Your mileage may vary with any of these methods, so you may need to try several before you find one that helps. Here’s an A-Z Sciatica treatment guide.
Centered on the philosophy of achieving well-being through the flow of energy within specific pathways into the body, acupuncture has been around since approximately 6000 BCE. Since then, acupuncture has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is recognized by the National Institutes of Health as an effective method of Sciatica relief.
Chiropractic and Manual Manipulation
Chiropractors and osteopathic physicians can administer spinal adjustments and offer manual manipulation that frees restricted movement of the spine and helps restore misaligned vertebrae to their proper position. These adjustments can reduce nerve irritability responsible for causing inflammation, muscle spasms, pain, and other symptoms related to Sciatica.
Epidural Steroid Injections
Administered directly to the painful area around the sciatic nerve to reduce inflammation, epidural steroid injections can provide quick relief. It is rarely permanent, however, usually lasting one week to one year. During this period of relief the Sciatica sufferer may try to get started on a conditioning or exercise program to beat Sciatica to the punch should it return.
Heat and Cold Therapy
When Sciatica pain is acute, heat or ice packs (or a combination thereof) can alleviate the pain; it’s ultimately up to the Sciatica sufferer to determine which method relieves pain the best. In general, heat or ice is applied for 20 minutes and then repeated every two hours until the pain subsides.
Massage therapy has been shown to increase blood circulation, relax muscles, and release pain-fighting endorphins, which occur naturally in the body. Massage therapy also focuses on loosening tight lower back muscles to prevent pinching or irritation, often the underlying cause of Sciatica pain.
Over-the-counter (OTC) nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen and naproxen have been shown to offer Sciatica relief by reducing inflammation. Prescription muscle relaxants or narcotic medications may also be helpful in the short term if OTC medication isn’t offering Sciatica relief.
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
TENS units send low-voltage electrical pulses to areas around the sciatic nerve, stimulating the nerve and blocking pain signals before they can enter the nervous system which is when they are “felt.” Pulses also cause the body to produce endorphins, a natural pain killer. Chiropractors and physicians may use TENS, but they’re also available for at-home use any time pain erupts.
Surgical Treatments for Sciatica
Most patients with Sciatica respond well to non-surgical treatments, however, there are some situations when surgery may be the right course of action with a physician’s recommendation:
There is bowel or bladder dysfunction. Uncommon, but not unheard of when the spinal cord is being compressed.
Spinal stenosis is at play. Spinal stenosis occurs when the space inside the spinal canal containing the nerve roots begins to narrow.
There are other neurologic dysfunctions. This could include difficulty walking, severe leg weakness, or spreading numbness.
There is a herniated disc in the lower back. Spondylolisthesis—slipped and misaligned vertebrae—is also a possibility.
The spine has degenerated. This can happen over the years through normal wear and tear, causing bone spurs.
A cyst or a tumor has been discovered. A surgeon can remove these from the spine and potentially ease Sciatica pain.
There are several types of surgical procedures used in spine surgery. Four of the most common include:
Discectomy or Microdiscectomy: Each of these procedures involves removal of all or part of the herniated disc that's pushing on the sciatic nerve. Microdiscectomy is the less invasive of the two, using microscopic magnification to work through a very small incision with very small instruments.
Laminectomy or Laminotomy: Each of these procedures involves removing all or part of the lamina, a bony plate that protects the spinal canal and spinal cord. This creates more space for nerves, reducing the likelihood of compressed or pinched nerves.
BandGrip for Sciatica Surgery
For Sciatica surgery, whether the incisions are small or large, BandGrip can help. Resembling a typical adhesive bandage, BandGrip’s patented micro-anchors grip the skin tightly and hold wound edges together securely, which offers many advantages:
Faster and easier application versus sutures and staples
Eliminates the risk of needlestick injuries
Results in less scarring than sutures or staples
Supports better mobility due to its smooth, water-resistant surface
Does not require a return visit for removal
Learn more about the power of BandGrip here.