treatment icon

Sciatica pain relief

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 3 minutes read

Sciatica is the sensation of pain, tingling, or burning running along the course of the sciatic nerve, which extends from the lower back down into the leg. The pain can occur due to contact or compression of the sciatic nerve, and commonly can be caused by a slipped disk.

The specific location of the pain or altered sensation is dependent upon the nerves that are irritated or compressed. Sciatica often resolves on its own, but pain may be managed with non-drug treatments and painkillers. The best painkillers for your sciatica will often depend on the severity and intensity of the pain as well as other factors.

Doctor’s advice

Non-drug treatment

Taking things easy, and resting for the first few days can help to relieve pain brought on by an acute episode of sciatica. If sleeping is difficult, try some altered positions, like having a pillow under your knees if you sleep on your back. Or, if you are a side sleeper, try with a pillow between your legs, or under your hips.

After this initial period of rest, staying as active as possible with appropriate pain relief, and introducing gentle exercise is important for recovery. This means going about your day-to-day activities as normal if you can. Alternating between hot and cold compression of the area affected may also help to relieve discomfort, especially muscle spasms associated with sciatica. Seeing a licensed chiropractor or physiotherapist is usually helpful.

Targeting mild-moderate pain

Painkillers are useful for treating pain and at helping the recovery of sciatica. Acetaminophen is usually a safe and sensible place to start when reaching for painkillers, with relatively few risks or side effects if taken as instructed. It’s well-tolerated and may be sufficient for mild-moderate pain.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are particularly useful at treating back pain and sciatica. They are a class of medications that work on pain and reduce inflammation. Examples include ibuprofen, naproxen and diclofenac.

Oral acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen are available to buy from any pharmacy, but stronger NSAIDs such as diclofenac require a prescription.

If after using acetaminophen or an NSAID individually, try using them in combination. This will allow you to cover periods where the painkillers may wear off or add the extra layer of pain relief as they work differently in the body.

Targeting severe pain: opioids and prescription medicines

If, after trying a combination of acetaminophen and NSAIDs, you are still experiencing pain, your doctor may prescribe a mild opioid combination as a replacement for acetaminophen. These contain acetaminophen and small amounts of codeine or hydrocodone. This is only for short-term use, therefore, if you are still experiencing symptoms after treatment with opioid painkillers for a few days, then you should speak to your doctor.

Side effects of the opioid family of medications include constipation, drowsiness, and feeling dizzy, sick, or slightly “out of it.” Certain people seem more susceptible to this than others.

When should I see my doctor?

Sciatica usually resolves itself by 6-12 weeks, with the worst of the pain starting to improve over the first few weeks. If your pain is not improving after a few weeks despite care and exercise at home, if the pain is severe or getting worse, or if it is affecting your daily activities, you should see your doctor to discuss this.

Concerning signs that suggest you should book an urgent appointment with your doctor are lack of control when peeing or pooping, numbness around the buttocks and rectum, numbness in your legs, weakness of your lower legs, fevers or other severe symptoms that feel out of proportion with the problem.

Was this helpful?

Was this helpful?

This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
App Store
Google Play
Piff tick
Version 2.26.5
© 2024 Healthwords Ltd. All Rights Reserved