The most common question asked for anyone who has ever experienced sciatica is ‘How Long Does Sciatica Last?’ Most people that have experienced sciatica pain would say that the first time is the worst time! Not because any subsequent flare-ups are less painful, but more because of the shock to the system. The excruciating pain is enough to take even the most hardy of us by surprise.
The path most people follow is very similar.
Acute sciatica can be extremely painful so most people will try some over the counter pain relief. This may take the edge off the pain but in the acute phase when sciatica first starts it often has little or no impact.
If pain relief medication does not work an appointment to see the Doctor is usually made. The may prescribe some outpatient physiotherapy and suggestions of how to modify daily activities to not aggravate the sciatica symptoms while recovering. Tip: It is important people don’t wait to make an appointment to see their Doctor. Getting an accurate diagnosis and starting treatment as early as possible can have an impact on how long it takes to fully recover.
If people are still in unbearable pain following a couple of sessions of physiotherapy and modifying their activities they usually return to the Doctors who may prescribe stronger pain relieving medication.
Doctors will try to avoid using prescribed pain relief for as long as practicable, as there are potential downsides and side-effects, but strong pain relief at the appropriate time may be required. Scans at the hospital are only part of the story and generally reserved for people where invasive action is likely. For most people (not all), even though it does not feel like it at the time, the pain will start to subside. For those experiencing sciatica for the first time the good news is the usual natural progression of low back leg related pain (commonly referred to as sciatica) is for it to get better with time. The body can and often does heal itself.
For those individuals where the sciatica is persistent and refractory (won’t go away) the last resort may be invasive action, which generally means injections or surgery to help reduce the symptoms. This is very much a last resort as there are no guarantees of a good outcome. Surgery also brings it own risk and for a small minority of individuals surgery can make the situation worse.
How Long Does Sciatica Last? – The Long Tail!
Sciatica is more common than you might imagine. If you have not had sciatic pain symptoms you probably no someone who has and the fact is the older we get the more likely we will experience it.
Many people will recognise the stage 1, 2 and 3 described above and have experienced sciatica beyond the time frames shown in the picture. Sometimes consistently but more often than not intermittently. If you have experience of sciatica you are bit wiser and better prepared if it returns, because the not so good news is around 80% of people who experience sciatic pain symptoms experience it more than once. The best chance of stopping it returning is to do the exercises prescribed by a physiotherapist, eat healthily and remain physically active.
The long tail of sciatica is all those people that perpetually live with sciatica. They no longer visit their Doctor when they experience sciatica, because they have experience of dealing with sciatica symptoms. They know the advice and patient care they will receive from their Doctor and they learn to manage. Someone in the long tail often experiences low level grumbling sciatic pain when they do certain activities like driving or sitting for too long. Sometimes they will experience more painful flare-ups once or twice a year.
So, how long does sciatica last? How long is a piece of string? NHS guidelines give provide an estimate of 4-6 weeks for how long sciatica will last. An individual’s actions can have an impact on how long it will last and it certainly is a good idea to stay out of Stage 3 or not be a part of the ‘The Long Tail’. To do this it is important to do the following:
- Get diagnoses and start treatment as early as possible.
- Adopt a healthy lifestyle. Eat healthily, Stay physically active and get good sleep.
- Know you can recover.
If you are one of the people who recognises the long tail of sciatica then read our hints and tips in other blogs on our website. You just might find a gem that helps you to manage your road to recovery from sciatica.
And of course you might want to consider the Sciatic Pain Relief Cushion to help you manage your sciatic pain symptoms. Ian Garside who has experienced sciatica and who treats people with sciatic pain symptoms designed the cushion to help himself and others.