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Sciatica: After Your Visit

Your Care Instructions

Sciatica (say "sye-AT-ih-kuh") is an irritation of one of the sciatic nerves, which come from the spinal cord in the lower back. The sciatic nerves and their branches extend down through the buttock to the foot. Sciatica can develop when an injured disc in the back presses against a spinal nerve root. Its main symptom is pain, numbness, or weakness that is often worse in the leg or foot than in the back.

Sciatica often will improve and go away with time. Early treatment usually includes medicines and exercises to relieve pain.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It’s also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • Put ice or a cold pack on the middle of your lower back for 10 to 20 minutes several times each day. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.
  • After the first 2 or 3 days, use a warm pack or heating pad for 20 minutes at a time. Hot showers will also help. Hot baths may help as long as you can lie or sit in a position that does not stress your back. You may also keep using ice if it helps.
  • Avoid sitting if possible, unless it feels better than standing.
  • Alternate lying down with short walks. Increase your walking distance as you are able to without making your symptoms worse.
  • Do not do anything that makes your symptoms worse.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have sudden weakness or numbness in both legs.
  • You lose bowel or bladder control.
  • You suddenly cannot walk or stand.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have weakness in your ankle or leg.
  • You have new pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness, especially in the buttocks, genital or rectal area, legs, or feet.
  • You have symptoms of a urinary infection. For example:
    • You have blood or pus in your urine.
    • You have pain in your back just below your rib cage. This is called flank pain.
    • You have a fever, chills, or body aches.
    • It hurts to urinate.
    • You have groin or belly pain.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • Your back pain gets worse or more frequent.
  • Your back pain is not getting better after 1 week of home treatment. It may take a lot longer for the pain to go away completely, but it should feel at least a little better.
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Current as of: July 1, 2013