Running from the lower back on down, the sciatic nerve is the longest single nerve in the human body. If it becomes compressed or irritated, the resulting discomfort, referred to as sciatica, can affect the lower back and nearby extremities. If you happen to be experiencing this type of discomfort, you may be wondering how long it could last. Typically, sciatica-related symptoms last for a few weeks. However, there are some other factors that can affect the duration of sciatica symptoms.
Oftentimes, sciatica will go away within a week or two if it’s simply due to a pinched nerve that heals itself. However, sciatica may last longer if it’s being aggravated by an underlying source. Common underlying sources of sciatic nerve irritation include:
• Muscle spasms
• Inflammation of lower back/pelvic muscles
• A herniated disc in the lower back area
• Age-related disc wear (degenerative disc disease)
• Slippage of a vertebral bone (spondylolisthesis)
• Abnormal spinal narrowing (stenosis) affecting the lower back area
If any of the lower back issues mentioned above are associated with your recent sciatica pain, you have what’s termed acute sciatica. With situations like this, discomfort may either remain constant or flare up intermittently for about a month or so. Beyond this point, the discomfort will likely subside on its own. This is more likely to be the case with proper treatment. If left completely untreated, sciatica may become chronic, which is defined as discomfort continuing for 2 months or more. In fact, it’s estimated about 20–30 percent of people with sciatica may continue to experience sciatic nerve-related symptoms for 1–2 years.
Get a better idea of how long your sciatica will last by getting an accurate diagnosis if your symptoms are lingering or getting worse. This process usually involves a physical exam and appropriate image or nerve-based tests. Treatment usually involves a combination of conservative options. These home-based treatments typically include:
• Hot/cold therapy that involves periodic applications of heat and cold in the affected area(s)
• Over-the-counter pain medications and anti-inflammatory drugs
• Massage therapy
Further ease stress on your sciatic nerve and lower back area by using ergonomically designed chairs that better support your posture. Physical therapy can also keep flare-ups in check by strengthening spine-supporting muscles. If additional treatment is needed beyond these initial efforts, your doctor or a Beverly Hills spine surgeon may advise you to consider:
• Prescription medications
• Lumbar epidural steroid injections
• Chiropractic care and other forms of manual manipulation
• Surgery to relieve nerve pressure or correct a structural problem affecting the sciatic nerve*
*Surgery is usually only recommended if other treatment efforts aren’t effective.
Even when sciatica becomes manageable or goes away entirely, it’s still important to stick to healthy lifestyle habits. By getting regular exercise, watching your posture, and eating nutrient-rich foods that naturally reduce inflammation, you’ll be increasing your odds of keeping your spine and its supporting parts healthy—which is also a good thing for your sciatic nerve.
Get in touch with The Spine Institute today if you think you might have sciatica or another spine-related condition. We specialize in a wide array of fusion and non-fusion procedures, from artificial disc replacement to extreme lateral interbody fusion. Beverly Hills patients can place their trust in Dr. Hyun Bae and his team of expert surgeons. Call 310-828-7757 today to schedule an appointment.