All too often, patients attempt to self-treat their sciatica symptoms without any input from a doctor. While it is true that some sciatica treatments that can benefit almost anyone—like cold and/or heat therapy—other types of self-treatment can sometimes do more harm than good.

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pain in lower extremities from lumbar radiculopathy
The technical term for sciatica is lumbar radiculopathy.
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Lumbar Radiculopathy

To help you properly care for your pain, tingling, and/or numbness, here is some advice on figuring out the right treatment for your sciatica symptoms:

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Treating the underlying cause of sciatica

You might be surprised to hear that sciatica is not technically a medical diagnosis. Instead, sciatica refers to a set of symptoms caused by an underlying lower back disorder.

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Four of the most common causes of sciatica are a lumbar herniated disc, degenerative disc disease, isthmic or degenerative spondylolisthesis, and lumbar spinal stenosis. Any of these lower back conditions might lead to the irritation or compression of one of your sciatic nerve roots, which in turn can send symptoms shooting along your sciatic nerve.

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Because numerous conditions can cause sciatica, treatment options can vary greatly from person-to-person. For example, stretches for sciatica relief from a lumbar herniated disc often encourage opposite types of movements from stretches for sciatica caused by lumbar spinal stenosis. Therefore, it is imperative that you receive a correct diagnosis of the underlying cause of your sciatica—as this will enable you and your medical professional to craft a treatment plan that is unique to your needs.

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Treatment is often a process of trial and error

Even if two patients suffer from sciatica symptoms caused by the same lower back condition, they may not respond positively to the same treatment. There are numerous reasons for this, including varying levels of pain tolerance from person-to-person. So then, finding the right treatment for your sciatica symptoms is often a process of trial and error.

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As a general rule, it is best to begin with the most conservative types of treatment first. For example, almost all people with sciatica can benefit from an exercise program that includes stretching, strength training, and low-impact aerobic exercises

If conservative treatments do not work, your doctor may suggest more aggressive forms of treatment—such as an epidural steroid injection. Surgery is typically only considered if your pain continues to interfere with your daily responsibilities despite four to six weeks of conservative treatments, or if you develop neurologic deficits like muscle weakness.

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The good news is that the vast majority of episodes of sciatica symptoms last less than 6 to 12 weeks. But after your pain subsides it is a smart idea to continue with your exercise program to help prevent future flare-ups.

Watch: Sciatica Treatment Video

Learn more:

Myths About Sciatica Treatment Options

Types of Sciatic Nerve Pain