If you’ve ever suffered with sciatica pain you know how disruptive the symptoms can be to your life. In this article we’ll reveal what the research says about the duration of Sciatica symptoms.
Let’s start with what is Sciatica, how long sciatica lasts and some tips to speed up your recovery and regain control of your life.
First, What is Sciatica?
Sciatica is pain that is felt from the sciatic nerve originating from the low back (Lumbar area). Usually the pain starts in the lower back and can travel down the buttocks and leg.
Here are some of the causes of sciatica symptoms, including:
- Herniated and Bulging Discs.
- Lumbar spinal stenosis.
- Sacroiliac joint dysfunction.
- Abnormal spinal postures.
- Piriformis syndrome.
- Bone spurs
It is reported that most commonly sciatica is caused by a disc herniation in the lower back and may be accompanied by other symptoms including lower back pain, and neurological complaints, such as pain, numbness and/or tingling in the lower extremity, as well as disability.
The pain associated with sciatica can range from a mild ache to severe pain, making simple everyday tasks such as sitting, bending, walking, and standing nearly impossible.
How Long Does Sciatica Last?
One randomized clinical trial investigating the effectiveness of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) compared to placebo for individuals with acute sciatica found that approximately 60% of patients taking the drugs recovered within 3 months, and 70% recovered within 12 months. In patients receiving the placebo treatment, approximately 50% reported improvement in 10 days, with 75% of patients reporting improvement after 4 weeks.
As you can see, in most patients therefore the prognosis is good, but at the same time a substantial proportion (up to 30%) continues to have pain for one year or longer.
What about Surgery?
At Back Intelligence, for the most part, we do not recommend surgery as there are many studies showing they rarely work – and it should be the last resort.
Tips for Speeding Up Recovery from Sciatica 
While most cases of sciatica should improve on their own with time and rest, there are some things you can do to help speed up your recovery. Below we’ll outline some of these tips:
1. Use Ice and Heat Therapy
Applying ice to the affected area in 15-minute intervals for the first 48 to 72 hours can help to reduce inflammation and numb the area. After the first 72 hours, applying a moist heat pack to the affected area in 20-minute intervals can help to soothe tight muscles and increase circulation to the area, thereby relieving symptoms. Check out this video about Ice Vs Heat.
2. Perform Sciatica Exercises & Stretches
Performing specific sciatica exercises at the first sign of symptoms can help to relieve pain associated with sciatica. Check out these recommended Sciatica Exercises for pain relief.
3. Change Positions Frequently
Try alternating between sitting, standing, and lying down every 15-40 minutes or so. Staying in one position for too long can cause increased pressure and pain, while movement can help to relieve sciatica symptoms.
4. Sit with Good Posture
At the very least, avoid prolonged sitting as sitting puts added pressure on the sciatic nerve and can worsen your symptoms. When you do have to sit there are a few things to keep in mind to relieve sciatic pain. Check out these 10 sitting posture tips. Check out these 10 sitting posture tips.
5. Stay Active
It’s fine to rest for a day or two, but it’s important that you remain active. Inactivity lead to the muscles of your back becoming weak and deconditioned; while exercise helps to relieve symptoms of sciatica by keeping your back, hip, and core muscles strong and flexible, which helps to support your spine and maintain good posture. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise, such as walking, biking or swimming, at least five times a week.
6. Avoid Bending Forward and Twisting
Since most Sciatica is discogenic (From Bulging/Herniated discs), avoiding certain positions and exercises will help you recover faster and make sure you do not re-injure yourself. Esp, avoid Flexing/bending forward or twisting. Check out the activities and exercises to avoid here.
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While many cases of sciatica can be relieved with some simple exercises, if you’re suffering with persistent symptoms that are disrupting your ability to engage in a healthy and active lifestyle, it may be time to seek out professional help.
Seeking treatment from a physical therapist or chiropractor can help to relieve your symptoms and also minimize your risk of suffering recurrent episodes of sciatica.
 Zhang X, Wang Y, Wang Z, Wang C, Ding W, Liu Z. A Randomized Clinical Trial Comparing the Effectiveness of Electroacupuncture versus Medium-Frequency Electrotherapy for Discogenic Sciatica. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2017;2017:1-9. doi:10.1155/2017/9502718
 Koes B, van Tulder M, Peul W. Diagnosis and treatment of sciatica. BMJ. 2007;334(7607):1313-1317. doi:10.1136/bmj.39223.428495.be
 Sciatica & Leg Pain | Cleveland Clinic. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/12792-sciatica. Published 2020. Accessed February 25, 2020.
Licensed chiropractor, DC (Owner of Forme Clinic, Stoney Creek, ON, L8G 1B9)
Dr. Shaina McQuilkie graduated from Brock University in 2004 with a Bachelor of Kinesiology (Honours). She then attended D’Youville College, in Buffalo, New York and obtained her Doctorate of Chiropractic Degree in 2008. After graduating, Dr. McQuilkie practiced in a multi-disciplinary healthcare facility based in Hamilton, Ontario gaining experience treating a variety of musculoskeletal injuries.