Sciatica is when the sciatic nerve, which runs from your hips to your feet, is irritated. It usually gets better in 4 to 6 weeks but can last longer.
If you have sciatica, your:
- backs of your legs
- feet and toes
- painful – the pain may be stabbing, burning or shooting
- tingling – like pins and needles
Your symptoms may be worse when moving, sneezing or coughing.
You may also have back pain, but this is not usually as bad as the pain in your bottom, legs or feet.
Sciatica usually gets better in 4 to 6 weeks but can sometimes last longer.
To help relieve your pain and speed up your recovery:
- carry on with your normal activities as much as possible
- regular back stretches
- start gentle exercise as soon as you can – anything that gets you moving can help
- hold heat packs to the painful areas – you can buy these from pharmacies
- ask your pharmacist about painkillers that can help – paracetamol on its own is unlikely to relieve your pain
- do not sit or lie down for long periods – even if moving hurts, it's not harmful and can help you get better faster
- do not use hot water bottles to ease the pain – you could scald yourself if your skin is numb
See a GP if the pain:
- has not improved after trying home treatments for a few weeks
- is getting worse
- is stopping you doing your normal activities
Go to A&E or call 999 if you:
- have sciatica on both sides
- have weakness or numbness in both legs that is severe or getting worse
- have numbness around or under your genitals, or around your anus
- find it hard to start peeing, cannot pee or cannot control when you pee – and this is not normal for you
- do not notice when you need to poo or cannot control when you poo – and this is not normal for you
These could be symptoms of a serious back problem that needs to be treated in hospital as soon as possible.
If you have sciatica, your GP may:
- suggest exercises and stretches
- prescribe painkillers that help with nerve pain like sciatica
They might also refer you for:
- physiotherapy – including exercise advice and techniques like massage (manual therapy)
- psychological support – to help you cope with the pain
Physiotherapy from the NHS may not be available everywhere and waiting times can be long. You can also get it privately.Injections and surgery for sciatica
If other treatments have not helped or your pain is very bad, your GP may refer you to a hospital specialist for:
- painkilling injections
- surgery – an operation called decompression surgery can sometimes help relieve sciatica
To reduce the chances of getting sciatica again:
- do not smoke – smoking can increase your risk of getting sciatica
Sciatica is due to something pressing or rubbing on the sciatic nerve.
- a slipped disc (the most common cause) – when a soft cushion of tissue between the bones in your spine pushes out
- spinal stenosis – narrowing of the part of your spine where nerves pass through
- spondylolisthesis – when one of the bones in your spine slips out of position
- a back injury