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How to deal with sciatic nerve pain

Q. What are some home remedies for sciatic nerve pain?

A. Sciatic nerve pain (commonly called just sciatica) is usually experienced as a shooting or burning pain in the lower back or buttock that radiates down the back of the leg.

Causes of sciatica include compression of the sciatic nerve in the lower spine or buttock from a herniated (slipped) disk; spinal stenosis (narrowing of the space around the spinal cord); traumatic injury; and arthritis of the lower spine. In many cases, no obvious cause can be found.

Common "home remedies" for sciatica include applying cold packs or ice (limit the time of cold exposure to 20 minutes at a time). A bag of frozen peas wrapped in a towel works well.

Avoid sitting too long, especially on a hard surface, and you might consider changing your mattress to one that is firmer and more supportive.

In addition, exercising can help, with the goal of strengthening the muscles of the abdomen and lower back. Add to that yoga or gentle stretching, but do not stretch further if you experience pain. Move through any stretch slowly and hold it. Then relax. Don't bounce.

Losing excess weight can sometimes help, and so can massage.

Avoid staying in bed too long. Prolonged bed rest is unhelpful and may even make things worse.

Standard medical approaches to treatment include rest, balanced with stretching and exercise (often with a physical therapist). Pain relievers, such as ibuprofen, naproxen or acetaminophen may alleviate the pain, and doctors may prescribe drugs for nerve pain, such as amitriptyline (Elavil) or gabapentin (Neurontin).

Injections of corticosteroids near the area of the compressed nerve are sometimes used.

As a last resort, surgery may be used to repair a slipped disk or to decompress spinal stenosis (surgery is usually used only in cases in which a surgically correctable abnormality is present).