Q & A Library
How can you treat sciatica? Are there exercises to relieve discomfort?
Answer (Published 7/23/2002)
Updated on 6/22/2005
Sciatica is pain in the lower back or hip that radiates down into a buttock and the back of a leg, often the result of a "slipped" or herniated vertebral disc pressing on the sciatic nerve. The pain can take a number of forms - it may feel like a cramp in the leg, may worsen when you sit, sneeze or cough, and may show up as numbness, burning, tingling or a pins-and-needles sensation in the leg.
Fortunately, sciatica usually goes away on its own within a few weeks (only 10-25 percent of all cases last more than six weeks and 80-90 percent of all people with sciatica recover, in time, without surgery), but there's a lot you can do to lessen the pain. You can apply heat or ice right away. Over-the-counter NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) can help, too. Beyond that, I would recommend the following treatments:
As far as surgery to remove part of the herniated disk is concerned, you shouldn't even think of it as an option unless, after three months of treatment, you still have disabling leg pain. Luckily, that is rarely the case.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
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