The sciatic nerve is one of the largest nerves in the body because it connects the spinal cord to the pelvis and legs. Because of its size and the fact that it exits the spinal column at the bottom and runs through the pelvis, the sciatic nerve can easily become pinched, resulting in a condition known as sciatica. Sciatica can cause a number of problems, including muscle weakness, numbness and shooting pain in the pelvis and legs. There are a number of ways in which this condition can be treated.
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Apply cold and heat to the affected areas or to the lower back. Cold packs, which can be purchased from drug stores or made by wrapping a moist cloth around ice, relieve the inflammation that can be caused by a pinched nerve and can also numb the affected nerve portions, which helps relieve pain. Ice packs should be applied for the first two or three days after experiencing acute symptoms from a pinched sciatic nerve, according to Medline Plus. After that, apply heat, by putting a hot pack in a microwave. The heat will help loosen the muscles around the pinched nerve, which may help relieve some of the pressure.
Rest in positions that will take pressure off the nerve. If you sleep on your back, elevate your knees using a pillow, rolled-up towel or some other soft structure. This will tilt your pelvis and can improve your symptoms. Alternately, putting a pillow between your legs and sleeping in a fetal position may also provide relief.
Strengthen your back using physical therapy. Physical therapy is an important part of the treatment process for a pinched sciatic nerve, the Mayo Clinic says. A pinched sciatic nerve can be the result of problems with muscles and bones in the pelvis or lower back area. In addition, problems with the spinal column can also put pressure on the nerve. Physical therapy is a non-invasive treatment approach that aims to strengthen muscles in the back, which can help correct anatomical problems and alleviate and posture problems that could be contributing to the nerve pressure.
Take medications to reduce the pain. There are a number of medications that can relieve the pain from a pinched sciatic nerve. Over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, can help relieve pain and inflammation. Doctors also may prescribe muscle relaxants to relieve nerve pressure. Finally, certain kinds of antidepressants and anticonvulsants, can be used to help reduce the pain caused by a pinched sciatic nerve, the Mayo Clinic says. Your doctor may also choose to inject corticosteroids near the pinched nerve. Corticosteroids are anti-inflammatory compounds that can help provide relief for pain and numbness around the damaged nerve.
Have the problem surgically corrected. In general, surgery is only recommended for patients who have experienced severe pain and symptoms for three months due to a pinched nerve, or if they are losing control of their bowels or bladders. With surgery, the structure that is pinching the nerve is either removed or repositioned to take pressure off the nerve. Surgery is often used as a last resort, but patients who have symptoms that are primarily limited to one leg have a 90 percent chance of having their pinched nerve successfully corrected using surgery, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.