With all the sciatica treatments that are available to you, how do you decide on the best course of treatment?
To aid you in your decision-making process, here is a helpful comparison of epidural steroid injections and exercise for treating sciatic pain:
Epidural steroid injections for sciatic pain relief
Epidural steroid injections deliver steroids directly to the area around your sciatic nerve roots to reduce the inflammation that may be causing your sciatica symptoms. In addition, an epidural steroid injection may also include a saline solution to flush out inflammatory proteins from the area that may be worsening your pain.
Epidural injections are commonly used to treat sciatica symptoms caused by the following lower back conditions:
Your doctor may recommend an epidural steroid injection if your pain is severe and is interfering with your day-to-day responsibilities. It is important to note that, if successful, the relief from an epidural injection is temporary (lasting anywhere from a week to a year).
Exercise for sciatic pain relief
Unlike an epidural steroid injection, exercise is a part of nearly every sciatica treatment plan. Exercise can help minimize your pain by strengthening the muscles that support your lumbar spine, and by spurring the release of healing oxygen and nutrients to the area.
There are 2 goals associated with an exercise treatment plan:
- Like an epidural injection, the first goal is to minimize your sciatic pain in the near term
- Unlike an epidural injection, the second goal is to prevent future flare-ups of sciatica symptoms
A typical sciatica exercise program will include low-impact aerobic exercise, strength training, and stretching. In contrast to an epidural injection, exercise is typically encouraged even after your sciatica symptoms have subsided (to manage future flare-ups).
It is important to note that an exercise program for sciatica symptoms needs to be tailored for your specific underling condition. For example, exercises for sciatica symptoms caused by a lumbar herniated disc may make your symptoms worse if your underlying condition is spinal stenosis.
Combining both pain-relief options
Often times, an epidural steroid injection is used to provide enough pain relief for a patient to begin (or continue) an exercise program to help alleviate their sciatica symptoms. So if your sciatica symptoms are preventing you from finding long-term relief by way of exercise, you may want to consider an injection to kick start your targeted exercise program.
The bottom line
Finding the best course of treatment for your sciatica symptoms often comes down to a process of trial and error; as what works for one person may have little effect on another. So the first step to take is to meet with your doctor to discuss all of your available treatment options.
As a general rule, your doctor will suggest you start with conservative treatments, and then slowly work your way towards more aggressive options (depending on the efficacy of the treatments you have previously tried).