How Long Will Sciatica Pain Last?

Pain located in the lower back that radiates along the sciatic nerve is known as sciatica. This pain often ends in the foot and toes. Sciatica results due to an inflamed or pinched sciatic nerve, occurring after a herniated intervertebral disc, injury or muscle strain. How long will sciatica last?

How Long Does Sciatica Last?

It is difficult to predict an exact time of how long sciatica lasts and how long there will be no flare-up. The situation is more complicated than you think and giving a definite answer is not that easy. In general, about 80 to 90% of patients suffering from sciatica have recovered within the first six months with conservative treatment. The recovery period is different for every patient and many factors seem to play a role in this process. In certain cases, conservative treatment fails to resolve the problem, so surgical treatment is needed.

Sciatica is grouped into acute sciatica attacks and chronic sciatica attacks.

Acute Sciatica Attack

Acute sciatica attack is a flare-up of sciatica pain and the frequency of this flair-up is different from one patient to the other. Some tend to have repeated sciatica attacks over a short period of time, while others tend to have sciatica attacks occasionally. How long does sciatica last? In general, these acute attacks don’t last longer than one week or two. They also tend to resolve on their own.

However, for some patients, these acute sciatica attacks can be debilitating, preventing them from performing everyday tasks and even from walking. The real triggers of these flare-ups are not clearly evidenced, but some physical activities and emotional factors seem to play an important role. Acute sciatica attacks tend to occur about 2 to 6 times within one year. However, some patients have more than 6 attacks a year, and others have less than 2 attacks a year or even none.

Chronic Sciatica Attack

How long does sciatica last? Chronic sciatica attack is characterized by the presence of pain and other symptoms related to a pinched or inflamed sciatic nerve, lasting for a long period of time, sometimes never going away.

The severity of the signs and symptoms depends, even though it tends to be just the same as when they first started. Chronic pain leads to an increased pain tolerance which enables them to endure it for a long period of time. Unfortunately, chronic sciatica is really hard to resolve. 

What Are the Symptoms of Sciatica?

Sciatica is characterized by mild, moderate or even severe pain which is located on the lower back and tends to radiate down into the hip, buttocks and along the back of the leg to the foot, often ending into the toes. 

Each leg has one sciatic nerve with its branches, so depending on which nerve is affected, the symptoms will appear on the left or right leg. Even though the problem originates in the lower lumbar part of the spine, the pain and other symptoms of sciatica are mainly felt in the legs.

Sciatica often starts suddenly as a sharp or stabbing pain. It usually affects one leg. Other signs and symptoms of sciatica beside pain are a tingling sensation, numbness and muscle weakness.

The diagnosis of sciatica is often based on medical history and a physical examination of the patient. In cases when a herniated disc is causing sciatica pain, a straight-leg test will help determine it. The patient needs to lie down on the back, while the examiner lifts the leg. If the pain is reproduced while lifting the leg, that is a sign of a herniated disc.

However, a more accurate diagnosis is made with the help of MRI which provides direct evidence of any disc problem along the spine. You should seek medical help immediately after experiencing sciatic pain.

How Is Sciatica Treated? 

How long does sciatica last? As mentioned, many factors will contribute in the recovery period of sciatica attack. However, with prompt and correct treatment, this time is significantly reduced.

The goal of the treatment is to relieve the pain and other symptoms of sciatica, as well as to increase the mobility as much as possible. Bed rest, painkillers and physical therapy are often recommended.

  1. Pain killers, anti-inflammatory medications such as NSAIDs and muscle relaxants will help relieve the pain, stiffness and the discomfort resulting from muscle spasms.
  2. Physical therapy is often part of sciatica treatment. The goal of physical therapy is to improve the flexibility of muscles, increasing the range of motion. With exercise, movements the pain is decreased, as the pressure on the pinched sciatic nerve is reduced.
  3. Corticosteroid injections into the lower part of the spine may help reduce the inflammation and swelling of the nerve roots, relieving the pain and other symptoms.
  4. Surgical treatment is the last treatment option when conservative treatment has failed to provide relief. Surgical treatment includes two surgical techniques:
  • Laminectomy – where the bone lamina that covers the spinal cord and tissue that is pressuring the sciatic nerve are removed
  • Microdiscectomy – where fragments of the herniated disc are removed

In cases of acute sciatic pain, applying heat and ice directly onto the leg can help relieve the pain. This especially works in the initial phase. Heat or ice is applied for about 20 minutes and repeated every 2 hours. 

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