How to Identify the Unmissable Signs Your Sciatica Is Healing
Updated March 10, 2023.
Sciatica is painful inflammation, irritation, or compression of the sciatic nerve causing pain in the lower limbs, often in only one leg. Sometimes, it may even be the cause of foot pain after running. According to a Harvard paper, up to 40% of people experience sciatica in their lifetime, but it can be treated. With treatment, recovery from sciatica usually takes a few weeks, but if left untreated, it can become chronic and take longer to heal.
The following is an overview of how to know if your sciatica is healing, whether there's a permanent cure, and recovery time.
Signs of Sciatica Improving
Unlike pain elsewhere, reduced severity is not the primary way to know if there is an improvement. Instead, you must consider the extent of your radiating pain.
Remember that sciatica causes radiating pain from the lower back down one leg (to every muscle supplied directly or indirectly by the sciatica nerve). With improvement, the pain begins to retreat backwards, a phenomenon known as centralization.
As the pain retraces backwards, the severity of the pain in the lower back or buttocks can increase. The more centralized the pain becomes around the spine, the surer you can be that improvement is taking place.
How Long Does Sciatic Nerve Pain Normally Last?
Sciatica doesn’t resolve on its own. Without treatment, it worsens and can lead to excruciating pain. However, with self-care, it may take 4 to 6 weeks for acute sciatic nerve pain to resolve.
At this stage, pain is intermittent, radiates down the leg, and causes altered sensations such as numbness and tingling in the lower limbs. Self-care treatment includes using hot and cold compresses, exercises, and over-the-counter drugs.
If the pain lasts longer than six weeks, it's termed chronic sciatica and requires more targeted treatment. The pain is more constant, and there may be associated weakness in the leg. Also, the risk of recurrence is higher when sciatica becomes chronic.
Treatment involves combining home remedies with medical management: physiotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), and pharmacologic management. Surgery is also another option, provided symptoms don’t improve with regular treatment.
Can Sciatica Be Cured Permanently?
The fact that the symptoms of sciatica get resolved doesn't mean it's gone permanently. The possibility of recurrence is a major risk of self-diagnosis. You must understand that sciatica has many causes and mimics many other kinds of back pain, such as flat feet causing back pain. Without an accurate diagnosis, the treatment will be general. One study suggests that symptoms may persist for up to twelve months, even with treatment.
Identifying the underlying cause is essential because it will influence the treatment. If a general treatment approach is used, both the risk of recurrence and the recovery time increase.
That said, surgery may very well be the only method that guarantees a permanent recovery since it focuses on the root cause. That's why the type of surgery also depends on the exact cause of sciatica. In any case, it's essential to consult your medical provider to determine the underlying cause of sciatica and the best line of treatment.
While there may be no permanent cure for sciatica, you can limit sciatica recurrence by strengthening your core and back muscles and maintaining a good posture when sitting, lifting, or standing. Maintaining a healthy weight can also reduce pressure on your back and prevent future sciatica flare-ups. Lastly, wearing supportive shoes and using orthotics for back pain can prevent the recurrence of sciatica.