What Causes Sciatica and How To Relieve It

December 5, 2019

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Douglas Nowacki, M.D. contributes to topics such as Orthopedic Surgery.

Sciatica is a pain that radiates along the sciatic nerve, which runs down one or both legs from the lower back. It affects millions of Americans each year and can range in pain from uncomfortable to debilitating.

What Causes Sciatica?

Sciatica is often caused by a compressed nerve in the lower spine. Contrary to popular belief, sciatica is a symptom, not a condition. The causes of sciatica are usually:

  • A herniated lumbar disc
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Lumbar spinal stenosis
  • Pregnancy

How Can You Relieve or Prevent Sciatica?

“Prevention is all about keeping a healthy back,” says Douglas Nowacki, M.D., a spine surgeon at Jersey Shore University Medical Center and Ocean Medical Center.

To keep a healthy back:

  1. Keep a healthy weight. Too much pressure on your joints from extra body weight can cause sciatica to flare up.
  2. Get regular exercise. Get regular exercise that focuses on building strong core muscles, which are essential to maintaining a healthy spine. Dr. Nowacki recommends exercise programs such as yoga and Pilates to nearly all of his patients. “Yoga and Pilates are both excellent ways to strengthen your core and are good for preventing and relieving sciatica,” he says.
  3. Consider physical therapy if needed. If you’re unable to do any type of exercise without pain, see a physical therapist for help, Dr. Nowacki adds.
  4. Over-the-counter medication. In addition to exercise, you can start to treat your sciatica with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication, such as Aleve or Tylenol. But relief, of course, is only temporary.
  5. Epidural steroid injections. For a potentially longer period of relief, Dr. Nowacki says patients could receive an epidural steroid injection, which bathes the inflamed nerves in an anti-inflammatory solution and could provide relief for three to six months. The procedure is performed in an outpatient setting while the patient is sedated, and can only be administered up to three times a year. Keep in mind that not everyone feels relief for that long, and some may not feel any relief at all. “It’s hard to predict who it will work for, but it’s definitely worth a try,” Dr. Nowacki says.
  6. Prescription medication. Another option is a prescription medication that can decrease the sensitivity of the nerves. Medications like Gabapentin and Lyrica treat muscle and nerve pain by limiting how much pain information the brain receives from the nerves. “Lots of my patients report good results with these medications,” Dr. Nowacki says.

Last Resort for Sciatica

As a last resort—and only if there is an identifiable problem—Dr. Nowacki says to consider surgery.

“Let’s explore all other treatment options first, and discuss surgery as a last resort,” he says.

Learn how our orthopedic experts are committed to helping you maintain optimal health, get moving and live life to the fullest.

Dr. Nowackiis orthopedic surgeon who practices in Ocean. To make an appointment, call 800-822-8905.

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.