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The 3 stages of sciatica recovery

The 3 stages of sciatica recovery

Sciatica pain is rarely a constant problem for sufferers, rather it comes in bouts. These can be more or less severe, sometimes only causing mild discomfort, other times leading to serious pain and impaired mobility. The road to recovery comes in three stages.

Stage 1: Sitting and lying

When suffering from a debilitating and painful bout of sciatica, advice to ‘keep active’ can seem far-fetched, if you are currently doubled over with back pain only the gentlest of movements are even possible. So you must look instead at your sedentary habits. Many sufferers find that the worst pain comes while seated. It is a good idea to temporarily avoid sofas and soft armchairs at this stage, and replace them with hard, straight-backed chairs. If the mattress you sleep on is very soft, consider replacing it with a firmer one.

Stage 2: Gentle exercise

Sciatica pain almost always subsides after a period of time, especially if the stage 1 advice above is followed. But if you return immediately to your former lifestyle without making any changes, sciatica is very likely to return. So here you must capitalise on this pain-free window by introducing some gentle exercise into your routine. Swimming is a great low-impact all-round exercise but can be a hassle depending on your access to a pool. Walking is also an excellent option and is much more accessible for most people. Whatever form of exercise you choose, there’s no need to overdo it, just moving on a regular basis will suffice for now.

Stage 3: Mobility exercise

Once you are walking, swimming or doing some other form of gentle exercise on a regular basis, this alone helps a lot to prevent the return of sciatica. But since you are doing so well, why not look into something a bit more advanced? Regular training in an activity designed to increase strength and flexibility, if done properly, is your best option for preventing sciatica returning. The options for this type of training are vast, ranging from yoga to weight lifting. Find something you like the sound of, and give it a try!

48 Comments

  1. Lori on April 12, 2021 at 11:22 am

    I’m a right leg amputee due to bone tumors. I realize my left side has taken quite a beating being off and on crutches in between surgeries to save my leg. My left maybe have been overworked and a bit fatigued, but no real pain to speak of. After TMR surgery last year, I fell backwards in a sitting position and hit the wood part of a couch. I heard bone break. The tailbone pain was instant and shocking. A few days later, my lower back, lower stomach and the outside of left thigh went numb. At the hospital, an MRI showed fracture of L1 and brused tailbone. I had surgery to repair the fracture, but every since that fall, I’ve had constant severe sciatica. It’s always the same with throbbing in lower back, rectal pressure and leg and foot pain as well as bottom of foot numbness. At it’s worse, it feels like someone’s trying to pry my hips apart. A pain mgt doc started me on low dose time released pain meds. They work well for the pain and don’t feel drugged. Problem is I can’t handle the pain without medication. I’ve tried every stretch, over the counter meds, massage, pressure points ect…they just make it worse. I finally have a great prosthetic leg and my gait is great. I just want to be out of pain and get back to life.

    • SPRC on April 12, 2021 at 9:16 pm

      Hi Lori,
      Sounds like things are going in the right direction albeit you need pain medication at the moment. Discuss with your Doctor if it is possible to gradually reduce the dosage of pain medication over time to and see if you can be gently weaned off them as your sciatica symptoms reduce. It is a difficult balance to get right but something you can consider trying. Best wishes.

  2. Barry on April 8, 2021 at 12:13 pm

    I have had sciatica symptoms for around 4 months. Being taking medication and following physio but it seems to be getting worse. During the day trying to stay active is getting much harder with my foot being numb and at night the pain is unbearable. The painkillers only really take the edge off it. And my stomach is feeling the effect of taking pain killers for 4 months. Mentally it is very hard with less than two hrs of sleep a night and no matter how many times i ask my doctor for help it is just the same answer pain killers and physio. Is there any other options

    • SPRC on April 8, 2021 at 8:23 pm

      Sorry to hear about your situation Barry. From what you have described if your sleep is being severely affected then this will make it more difficult to recovery. We all feel pain more when we are deprived of sleep. In this situation we should make improving your sleep a priority. We know this is easier said than done. Consider speaking to your Doctor about the lack of sleep. In the meantime read our blogs from the beginning. They cover many typical daily and nightly situations you will encounter and hopefully you will pick up a few helpful tips to help get you on the path to recovery. Best wishes.

  3. MooreM on March 25, 2021 at 2:07 pm

    Hello, My Sciatica pain started exactly 12 days ago. 2 weeks prior to the first day of pain – I fell but not from very far. I was walking slowly through the snow and I fell. The symptoms showed up 2 weeks later after walking for about 5 miles and forgetting to stretch. I am currently waiting for an MRI appointment to see if it is a herniated disc. The sharp pain in the buttock symptoms have lessened but both of my legs are extremely weak that I can not stand for longer than 2 minutes. Is that worrisome? I am a very active and outgoing person so this has been very hard on my mental health. Is there a positive road to recovery and what should I do from this early on to ensure a full recovery? please advice.

    • SPRC on April 5, 2021 at 10:31 am

      Hello,
      Sorry to hear about your fall. THE MRI scan will help to show if it is a herniated disc. Have you seen a physio or Doctor so they can physically examine you and take a full history as well? This is important. On the whole although something like this can be very painful and concerning if it is related to a lower back issue the vast majority of the time a full recovery is made. Once you have a diagnosis a path to full recovery can be planned. If it is sciatica related symptoms due to a herniated disc you can read the blogs on our site and you will find lots of ideas that can help you as you recover. Best wishes.

  4. Margaret Thilthorpe on March 6, 2021 at 6:49 pm

    I am female age 72. One morning i got out of bed and all of a sudden and my.hip and leg pain was excrutiating. That started about 8 months ago, it started to ease off then has come back. It’s awful. If I sit for a while whilst out walking it eases off a bit then i can walk a little further and so on. It is badly ruining my life. The pain is iright down in my lower back when coughing l. My leg tingles and feel funny at my knee area.what kn earth can be wrong. I can’t go far as I can only walk for a while before it’s just too, too painful. Any suggestions please.

    • SPRC on March 6, 2021 at 7:34 pm

      Sorry to hear about that Margaret. Sounds as though it could be sciatica symptoms coming from nerve root irritation in the lower back. The best way to be sure is to visit a Doctor or physiotherapist so your symptoms can be correctly diagnosed. Hot-cold therapy can sometimes be effective in helping reduce symptoms and is something you can consider trying. There is a blog about this technique on our site. Best wishes.

  5. Sumit on January 29, 2021 at 8:29 am

    I’m 21 year old. I’m suffering from the sciatic pain about 2.5 months. Actually this pain was started through my gymnasium. I didn’t feel any pain in my lower but yes in the left hip I will a little gentle pain.
    I wanna tell you that I can run I can walk Any activity i can do. But when I sit for a long time and try to stand then I feel difficulty.
    So please tell me the reason what should I do

    • SPRC on January 29, 2021 at 1:06 pm

      Hello Sumit,
      Sorry to hear about your pains. The most important thing to do right now is get assessed by a healthcare professional and preferably in person. You may have sciatica symptoms but based on your age and the activities you can do it is wise to get it checked out and make sure it is not something else. Hope you’re feeling better soon.
      Best regards

  6. Roger Fagan on January 13, 2021 at 3:09 pm

    I’ve was a fit and active 70 year old, still able to skip and tap dance, and I triggered severe Sciatica all by myself. I decided to do a cliff path walk with some twenty and thirty year olds,, determined to keep up with them on the steep uphill climbs. What could possibly go wrong? Sciatica is the worst thing I’ve ever had in my life, quite debilitating. When I got some relief I had to set myself small achievable goals and so far it is keeping it at bay.
    No matter how bad the weather, I have to do my walking, – each day increased by a couple of hundred metres\yards, Gentle uphills are more comfortable than the flats or downhills but they’re hard to avoid when you’ve gone uphill. EVERY MORNING without fail, I have to do some basic Pilates, stretching and resistance excercises the very moment I get out of bed. If I don’t, then my calf and achilles tendon is stiff and I start the rolling gait limp earlier than I would have done. Just keep up the constant little excercise, and the moment it begins to hurt, stop, meaning you don’t go far away from home or car, Good luck.

  7. Mary on January 3, 2021 at 1:06 am

    I had a bad bout of sciatica four years ago and again two years ago. I’m much better, mainly due to exercise including lots of Pilates. I still have some numbness in my foot and nerve tingling in my leg. Is there any hope still that this could go away, or am I likely stuck with it? Any tips to get a better recovery?

    • SPRC on January 3, 2021 at 5:51 pm

      Hello Mary,
      Although symptoms can persist for extended periods of time most people can recover without experiencing any symptoms. This could be the case for you even after this length of time. Sounds like you are doing all the right things. When symptoms people experience are not there all time they should focus their efforts on what triggers the symptoms when they do arise. There is most likely a pattern and once recognised you are in a better position to work out what you can do to help complete the recovery. Best wishes.

  8. Glori on December 10, 2020 at 7:43 am

    Hi! I am a 19 year old girl who has had sciatica for over a year (October 2019). I have gone to plenty of doctors and am currently in sadness and frustration that my sciatica is not going away. I have realized that a sedentary lifestyle prevents my pain from flaring up, and not even a walk in the park makes my sciatica feel better and it flares up instead. I went to pt for five months in the summer, and it only made my pain worse. I got it from overworking myself at the gym and I heard something pop. Since then, my sciatica nerve is too fragile to handle anything and I still can not bend over without the pain aching afterwards. I have also tried massage therapy and plenty of medications. I am so frustrated, words can not describe how I feel. Everytime I breathe in, my back cracks. Please tell me if there is anything I can do to be better. I have tried almost everything and I am giving up. Thank you for reading.

    • SPRC on December 13, 2020 at 7:56 pm

      Hi Glori,
      Sorry to hear of your trials and tribulations. The times it is taking you to recover is not typical. It is hard but very important not to give up and to keep trying different things. Your PT is probably excellent, but it is worth trying another that has a slightly different approach. Different things work for different people. You definitely have one great advantage and that is youth. You describe situations where the ‘pain flares up’ or ‘aching afterwards’. Very little and very often is an approach you may want to try so you can quickly work out just how much is too much. A level of activity that does not flare your symptoms up is the best place to start and build up steadily from there. Unfortunately your path to recovery is a long haul but you will get there. Best wishes.

      • Terry b on March 7, 2021 at 6:11 am

        Im getting a microdiscectomy next week. Sounds promising.

        • Barbara Langhorne on April 6, 2021 at 2:58 am

          Did this help? I have really bad lower back pain, down my buttocks, both my thighs and down my private parts.

  9. Cherryl on October 28, 2020 at 11:15 am

    I have had sciatica for over two months now. It is in my left buttock and runs down my leg. Sometimes the pain makes me cry. Some mornings I can’t even bend to put my socks and shoes on. I think I know when I did it while picking up some heavy pots in the garden. It came on suddenly two days later. Bending is difficult. Some days I think it has gone but then it starts again. I’ve had trapped nerves before but nothing like this

    • SPRC on October 28, 2020 at 2:47 pm

      Sorry to hear this Cherryl,
      Even though you have experience of nerve pain before please do make sure you get this checked out by an appropriate healthcare professional. We’re sure you have already done this, but still worth mentioning just in case. We hope you start improving soon. Best wishes.

  10. Eileen Sayers on October 12, 2020 at 3:52 am

    August 6th it started on my left buttock n started getting more painful each day to where I only had to lay completely straight to be pain free, as soon as I got up to use the restroom severe pain to where I cried I had a mri done n have two herniated discs, I had a epidural steroid shot which didn’t really help I was unable to shower or do anything I was completely need ridden for 36 days when I would go to appointments I had to have the car seat pushed all the way back to where I was completely straight I went thru hell had to use a walker to get up for the restroom my kids had to wash my hair in bed I couldn’t work I couldn’t do nothing.. this has been the worst pain I have ever been in I was given OxyContin Vicodin Percocet n morphine I was hospitalized for three days where I had morphine this was a life changing thing for me, I was suppose to have surgery but got put off because of my a1c so I’m trying to get my sugars down so I can have surgery, but as of right now my pain just gradually went away and I feel pretty normal I am so happy to be able to get up n walk n do what I used to do, so I’m just wondering why it just went away?

    • SPRC on October 12, 2020 at 9:52 am

      Hi Eileen,
      That sounds like an ordeal, but glad to hear you came through it. The fact of the matter is the body can heal if given the opportunity. So, even as you are enduring the pain the healing process is taking place. Unfortunately nerves heal slowly. The pressure that is exerted on nerve roots in the lower back can subside as the swelling due to inflammation in the nerve reduces and if the herniation/bulging disc retracts. Both take time but this sometimes possible. Stay well.

      • Matt on November 23, 2020 at 6:39 pm

        Got sciatica pain in middle of night, worst pain I’ve ever experienced.B urning down left leg. I could walk no problem other than that I could only lie completely flat. Sitting was torture…I got 3 rounds of prednisone but pain would always return. Found out I had herniated disc l5 also affecting l4 s1… during third round of steroid and week following I’ve started feeling better…I got foot weakness right away and that remains but otherwise better. Getting pt but it seems they only work on core strength. Anyway I felt pretty good last 3,4 5 days but today the sciatica is acting up more than usual though not as bad as first 2 weeks.. is this normal? To be expected? It’s very rainy and cool today as well.. i’m just discouraged today.

        • SPRC on November 23, 2020 at 9:23 pm

          Ups and downs on the road to recovery is normal Matt. Sounds like you are doing well, as you are going in the right direction. Take heart in that fact when the symptoms return. The gaps between symptoms and feeling great will get longer and longer. Keep up the PT work. That’s key to giving you the best chance of it not returning when you fully recover. Best wishes.

    • Michelle on October 24, 2020 at 10:58 am

      Oh my gosh! This sounds exactly like me right now! I am on week 5 of being bedridden. My poor kids have to do everything. I have to eat laying down because I can’t sit or stand for more than 3 minutes. I show up at my appointments shaking, crying and in so much pain. I’m only taking t3s. I finally felt like yesterday the pain and deadness in my foot is going away. I’m trying to walk a tiny bit in the home with my walker. I used to be very active and this is mentally debilitating as well as physically. Please tell me how and when it went away. I would love a little inspiration and hope right now!

  11. Susan on September 16, 2020 at 2:25 am

    I at the end of April, my hamstring pain turned into leg numbness and weakness. I was started on celebrex and lyrical. I started basic physio. No both my legs go numb and weak if I try to walk. I was doing ok atvwalking 1.5 miles per hour for 10 minutes sometimes. But now I am back to numbness and weakness as soon as I walk and sometimes at rest. It has been 4 months. I am becoming afraid of permanent nerve damage. How do I get better? I’m losing my mind!

  12. Varun on September 12, 2020 at 3:03 am

    HI
    I had sciatica from past one month, It started from using excessive weight in gym,I was doing back squats and it went wrong.
    I was having pain starting from my lower right back till my right ankle,
    Now the pain has improved but still have a little pain in center back, a little tenderness
    I know i will be fine in few weeks but afraid to decide if i should starting working out again or not.
    (I am 30 years old)

    • SPRC on September 12, 2020 at 8:55 am

      Dear Varun,
      Sounds like you are well on the road to recovery. Consider reviewing your exercise routine and rehabilitating fully before trying to lift anything too heavy in the gym. Something like a course of Pilates could be very useful. When you decide to return to the gym steady progression will be important.
      Take care and best wishes.

  13. Susan on August 29, 2020 at 4:28 am

    At the end of April, my hamstring pain turned into leg numbness and weakness. I was started on celebrex and lyrica. I started basic physio. Now both my legs go numb and weak if I try to walk. I was doing ok at walking 1.5 miles per hour for 10 minutes sometimes. But now I am back to numbness and weakness as soon as I walk and sometimes at rest. It has been 4 months. I am becoming afraid of permanent nerve damage. How do I get better? I’m losing my mind!

    • SPRC on August 30, 2020 at 2:18 pm

      Dear Susan,
      Losing your mind is a common feeling for people that experience sciatic pain symptoms. Sounds like you are under the care of great healthcare professionals. The fact you improved is a great sign. It means you can get better. Often people do a little too much in the rehab phase and have a slight step backward. Maybe that is something to discuss with your physio. Painful as sciatica is the likelihood of permanent nerve damage is very slim so try not to worry. Keep following the advice from the healthcare professionals. If you read our blogs you may find some useful tips of little things that might help in day to day life. Best wishes.

  14. Linda Smith on February 28, 2020 at 10:09 am

    I have had sciatica since October. Pain in lower back,.buttocks ,thigh and pins and needles in foot. Physio has sorted back but the other pains persist..Can’t sleep due to the pain. Been doing the exercises . Everyone tells me it will start to improve. How long does this take, can’t see an end to it…………………………..

    • SPRC on February 28, 2020 at 12:08 pm

      Dear Linda,
      Your situation is like many others although most people show improvement with sciatica symptoms earlier than 4-5 months. The vast majority of people improve with time so what people are telling you is true. The most significant thing that you have mentioned is the fact it is affecting your sleep. It is really important to get this situation to improve as this will help to speed your recovery. Speak with your Doctor and physio about the sleep issue and see what advice they have for. Also read the blogs we have on sleeping with sciatica. We have a couple. We hope you are feeling better soon.

      • Melissa E McKenzie on July 26, 2020 at 10:53 pm

        My Name is Melissa . I have Sciatica. . I have had it now for 3 months. It hurts so bad that I cry. It hurts when I sit at night I can hardly sleep the pain is so bad. Can’t stand long either. The only comfort is when I am walking. I try everything. Hot and cold methods herbs oils massages. Medication. I just don’t know. I hurt every Day . Could u please give me some advice on it . Thank u

        • SPRC on July 26, 2020 at 11:20 pm

          Hello Melissa,
          Sorry to hear what you are going through. Getting good sleep is vital as we feel pain more when we are deprived of sleep. Keep experimenting with the things that help you. If walking brings comfort that try and time a gentle walk later in the evening. Even if it means around the home. Also consider the timing of any pain relief medication from your doctor. The most important thing is to keep trying different things and don’t give up. Read our blogs and see if there is anything there you could try. The pain will subside eventually. Best wishes.

        • Julie on August 12, 2020 at 11:08 pm

          Hi Melissa. I have had severe sciatica now since 2nd March 2020. I cannot sleep the pain is so bad, when I do sleep I’m in excruciating pain and cannot walk well for an hour or so on waking. I sleep for 2/3 hrs max. I have had an MR and it’s revealed I have 3 herniated discs, I’ve had 16 sessions of physio which I pay for and it has made no difference. I’m on 450mg of pregabalin and I still have no relief. Consultant at the hospital has offered me a steroid Injection but has said I may have to live with the pain as my discs are not bulging enough to have surgery. He showed me no sympathy whatsoever In fact he made me feel I was wasting his time. I use an ice compress and do gentle exercises which help me slightly. You have to be careful what exercises you do. I wish you luck as I feel so isolated and unless a doctor has had this they have no idea what it like.

    • Nancy on July 26, 2020 at 11:54 pm

      I got a shot. Its been a week please someone tell how long does take go way

  15. Dave on August 30, 2019 at 5:55 am

    My left leg has become increasingly debilitated over 2 weeks – pain started in and centralised still in buttock.Sitting and lying down were the only options for me. After going to a chiropractor lying down with straight legs became impossible – sitting is my only relief position.
    Standing more than 10 seconds starts to throb and becomes unbearable within a minute. Pain killers (co-codamil or naproxen) do not seem to help.
    I cannot go into work just now due to this, cannot do anything.
    Any suggestions?

    • SPRC on September 2, 2019 at 12:01 pm

      Sorry to hear this Dave. If the pain has been getting worse over the last two weeks and you are now unable to work then a visit to your Doctors (if you have not already been) is necessary. The positions you adopt seem to affect you a lot so a physiotherapist may be able to give advice on movement patterns that may help. Bringing down the inflammation may help with cold therapy so have a look at our blog on that. Hopefully you will be on the road to recovery very soon. Best wishes.

    • Janet on September 19, 2019 at 10:41 am

      I have this problem also. I try to keep active and as soon as I stand up or walk my leg and my foot god numb. I’ve been docs and she said I have to do little as possible like no hoovering or bending. Im on painkiller s also and i have to have time off work. I keep to my physio excersise I wish it would go away. Got two dogs I want to walk and it’s so frustrating.

      • SPRC on September 20, 2019 at 9:10 am

        Hi Janet,
        We feel your frustration.Stick with the physio exercises and read some of our other blogs for more ideas to get relief. I’m sure it will start to improve soon. Best wishes.

        • Nilesh on October 18, 2020 at 5:09 am

          Hi I’m Nilesh I’m 24 i have sciatica pain from last 3weeks in right leg it’s unbearable pain it’s hurts while walking n stretch exercise i saw lots of video regards exercise in sciatica but now I’m unable to doing that stretches i have taken Gabapentin n thiocolchicocide doses pls help.

          • SPRC on October 19, 2020 at 1:54 pm

            Dear Nilesh,
            We are very sorry to hear about your sciatica pain. Visit your Doctor and listen to your Doctor’s advice. If the pain is unbearabl perhaps some pain medication in the short term is required to allow you to be able to function and do the exercises that can help you. Consider seeing a physical therapist. In the long term physical activities prescribed by a healthcare practitioner will be the most effective for your long-term recovery and the earlier you start the better.
            We hope you recover soon. Best wishes.

      • Manzoor on August 7, 2020 at 3:25 pm

        My pain started 3 months ago ,left side of my back just below the hip also have pain just above the ankle on the side of same leg.have tingling sensation on side of leg right down to foot,sometimes it feels numb. Gp referred me to physiotherapist, cos of corona virus it was telephone chat,I was given some light exercise to do,after 2 months felt a slight improvement, I wasn’t crouching so much,also tried private chriopractor,about 8 sessions it was a waste of money.also tried a chinese karate instructor who also specializes in muscular nerve pain,that was more like torture, but still the pain is still there,tried cold iceing and heat therapy, tried message with different oils nothing is working for me tried naproxen, ibuprofen gel,voltrol gel,also codeine, and gabapentin, I have getting very anxious, I haven’t got many hair left to put out .on top of all this is covid 19 era.

        • Ravi Boricha on September 17, 2020 at 10:34 am

          Hello,
          I got sciatica from a disc bulge three months back. The pain comes and goes in my left leg. The pain has reduced a lot. But still when I get down to sleep the sciatica hurts but very little. And i once i have laid down the pain doesnt come back. I can say that only some twisting moments hurts my sciatica other than that I am pain free. Can you tell me at what stage of revovery I am in??.. Please do reply!!

          • SPRC on September 17, 2020 at 11:13 am

            Dear Ravi,
            It sounds like you are well on the road to recovery. Your symptoms reducing tells you this. I am sure your healthcare provider will be able to assure you. The good news is it sounds as though you know exactly what exacerbates your symptoms. With help from your healthcare provider a few simple activity modifications to reduce the possibility of aggravating symptoms will be beneficial. Remember nerves heal slowly, but in the vast majority of cases they can heal. Best wishes.

            • Steph on November 27, 2020 at 9:43 pm

              Hi, I’m 36, lone parent to three boys, love running and im a 2nd yr student paramedic.
              5 weeks ago after a HITT workout I woke with sciatica, doctors prescribed me with Naproxen and Co-Codamol after a week of pain. I had sports massages but still in pain. My eldest son (12) has to put my socks on for me in the morning.
              Nearly 6 weeks in, I’ve been on Amitriptyline for 4 nights and having trips to a chiropractor.
              I’m at my wits end now. I don’t know what else to do next. I’m supposed to be back at work next week, how can I when I can barely walk.
              My placement with the ambulance service is coming up and I want to be fully able bodied for the 12 hour shifts with no pain.
              Please help. Thank you.

              • SPRC on November 28, 2020 at 2:50 pm

                Hi Steph,
                Sorry to hear about your pain and predicament. Without knowing your full history it is difficult to advise specifics. From what you have said you are fit young and healthy so you’re highly likely to heal soon. Understandably you want to be fully fit for work, but putting pressure on yourself to heal could slow it down rather than speed it up. If your sciatica symptoms are from the typical lower back nerve root irritation and you feel pain when bending and standing then you could try to reduce the inflammation in the lower back region with hot cold therapy. Our blog on massage for sciatica describes how that works. Try work out what exacerbates symptoms the most and work out activity modifications to limit the impact. For example if you standing up and walking seems to trigger symptoms most then consider using a device to temporarily assist you while walking, e.g. a crutch or cane to take the weight off the affected side. The most important thing is to stay active keep trying to find solutions. This will keep you motivated and encourage healing. Best wishes.



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