Sciatica refers to pain that radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve, which branches from your lower back through your hips and buttocks and down each leg. Typically, sciatica affects only one side of your body.

What triggers sciatica?

Sciatica most commonly occurs when a herniated disk, bone spur on the spine or narrowing of the spine (spinal stenosis) compresses part of the nerve. This causes inflammation, pain and often some numbness in the affected leg.

How long does acute and chronic sciatica last?

Sciatica is a pain that starts in the lower back. It travels through the hips and buttocks and down the legs. It occurs when nerve roots that make up the sciatic nerve become pinched or compressed. Sciatica usually affects only one side of the body. Sciatica can be acute or chronic. An acute episode may last between one and two weeks and usually resolves itself in a few weeks. It’s fairly common to experience some numbness for a while after the pain has subsided. You may also have sciatic episodes a handful of times a year. Acute sciatica may eventually turn into chronic sciatica. This means the pain exists pretty regularly. Chronic sciatica is a life-long condition. It doesn’t currently respond well to treatment, but the pain from chronic sciatica is often less severe than the acute form.

How to manage sciatic pain

For many people, sciatica responds well to self-care. Rest for a couple of days after a flare-up begins, but don’t wait too long before resuming activity. Long periods of inactivity will actually make your symptoms worse.   Applying hot or cold packs to your lower back may provide temporary relief. You can also try these six stretches to help relieve sciatic pain.   Over-the-counter medication, like aspirin or ibuprofen (Advil), may help reduce inflammation, swelling, and alleviate some of your pain.

When to see your doctor

Call your doctor if:   your symptoms aren’t improving with self-care the flare-up has lasted longer than a week the pain is more severe than it has been with previous flare-ups or is gradually worsening   Seek emergency medical help if the pain has occurred immediately following a traumatic injury, such as a car accident, or if you’re having trouble controlling your bladder or bowels.

How is sciatica different from back pain?

In sciatica, the pain radiates from the lower back into the leg. In back pain, discomfort remains in the lower back. There are many other conditions with symptoms similar to sciatica. These include:   bursitis herniated disk pinched nerve   This is why it’s important to see your doctor for a full diagnosis. Your doctor can then work with you to create an appropriate treatment plan.

How long does sciatica in pregnancy last?

A 2008 review estimates between 50 and 80 percent of women experience lower back pain in pregnancy, but it’s highly unlikely to actually be sciatica.   Occasionally the position of your baby can add pressure to the sciatic nerve, leading to sciatica. Depending on whether your baby’s position changes, the pain may last for the remainder of your pregnancy, come and go, or disappear. It should fully resolve after your baby is born.   Sciatica in pregnancy doesn’t indicate any problems other than pain and discomfort for the mother. Prenatal massage or prenatal yoga may help relieve some of your discomfort. You can also try one of these other drug-free treatments for sciatica during pregnancy.

The takeaway

Sciatica is a painful condition. It can make it more difficult to perform daily tasks. You might have severe pain but relatively infrequent attacks, or you may have less severe but constant sciatic pain. There are many ways to relieve the symptoms of sciatica. In most cases, the pain is completely alleviated within a couple of weeks.   Talk to your doctor if your symptoms don’t improve with home treatment, last a long time, or you’re having difficulty completing your daily tasks. Your doctor can help come up with a treatment plan that will work for you.

Does sciatica occur suddenly or does it take time to develop?

Sciatica can come on suddenly or gradually. It depends on the cause. A disk herniation can cause sudden pain. Arthritis in the spine develops slowly over time.

How common is sciatica?

Sciatica is a very common complaint. About 40% of people in the U.S. experience sciatica sometime during their life. Back pain is the third most common reason people visit their healthcare provider.