Treatment for Sciatica

The goals of sciatica treatment are to relieve pain and increase mobility. In most cases, sciatica resolves over time with rest. Treatment for the condition depends on the underlying cause and may include the following:

  • Exercise (e.g., walking, swimming)
  • Heating pads or ice packs (to reduce pain and inflammation)
  • Medication (e.g., nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs [NSAIDS; Advil, Motrin, Aleve], muscle relaxants [Flexeril, Amrix])
  • Physical therapy
  • Steroid injection (e.g., cortisone; may help reduce inflammation and improve mobility)
  • Surgery

In severe cases, a few days of bed rest, followed by a gradual return to light activity, such as walking, may be recommended. Once acute symptoms have improved, physical therapy (including stretching and strengthening exercises) often is helpful.

If sciatica does not respond to therapy, continues to worsen in spite of treatment, or results in severe, disabling pain, surgery may be necessary. Surgical procedures that may be used to treat sciatica include microdiscectomy and laminectomy.

Microdiscectomy involves removing the damaged intervertebral disc and replacing it with a piece of bone or another material. In laminectomy, the portion of a vertebra that curves around the spinal cord (called the lamina) is removed to relieve compression of the nerve root.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 05 Nov 2008

Last Modified: 05 Oct 2015