Coping with a Sciatica Attack: Symptoms and Relief

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Understanding Sciatica Attacks: Causes, Symptoms, and Effective Relief

Here at Kaly, we know how disruptive and painful a sciatica attack can be. Sciatica refers to shooting pain stemming from irritation or compression of the sciatic nerve. 

Attacks cause debilitating pain and discomfort. This guide will overview sciatica attack symptoms, potential triggers, and how to find relief.

What is a Sciatica Attack?

A sciatica attack, also called a flare-up, refers to a sudden severe worsening of sciatic nerve pain, tingling, numbness or weakness. It may feel like a spasm, sharp burning sensation or electric shock radiating from the low back down the leg.

Attacks range from mild to excruciatingly painful. The intensity often leaves sufferers unable to carry out normal daily activities. Attacks can last anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks. Some people only experience one isolated flare-up, while others get them sporadically.

Sciatica Attack Triggers

sciatica pain

Flares can sometimes occur without an obvious cause. But certain triggers are known to provoke symptoms, like:

  • Prolonged sitting or standing
  • Lifting heavy objects
  • Bending, coughing or straining
  • Intense physical activity
  • Obesity or weight gain
  • Spinal disc degeneration
  • Pregnancy
  • Autoimmune disorders

Even minor actions like rolling over in bed or taking a misstep off a curb can set off pain. Identifying and avoiding potential triggers is key to preventing attacks.

Sciatica Attack Symptoms

  • Sudden sharp, shooting or burning pain in the buttocks, back of thigh, calf, or foot
  • Numbness, pins and needles sensation or tingling down the leg
  • Muscle spasms or cramping sensation in the leg, foot or buttocks
  • Difficulty moving the leg or foot
  • Pain worsening with coughing, sneezing or bowel movements

See a doctor if you experience any loss of bladder/bowel control or weakness in both legs. These require prompt medical attention.

Can you prevent sciatica attacks?

It’s difficult to prevent them entirely, but maintaining good posture, losing excess weight, exercising regularly, and avoiding known triggers can reduce your risk.

Why are my sciatica attacks getting worse?

Worsening attacks may signal an underlying condition like a herniated/degenerative disc, spinal stenosis, or piriformis syndrome. See your doctor to assess the cause.

What medications help stop sciatica attacks?

OTC anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants, neuropathic pain medications, or steroid injections prescribed by a doctor can help alleviate attack symptoms.

Will I need surgery for recurring sciatica attacks?

Surgery is rarely necessary except for very severe sciatica that’s untreatable by other methods. Most people improve with more conservative treatments.

How Long Do Sciatica Attacks Last?

The duration varies significantly depending on the underlying cause. A flare provoked by strenuous activity may resolve in a few days with rest. Attacks from spinal conditions like a herniated disc often last longer, sometimes a few weeks.

See your doctor if an attack lasts more than a week or two without improvement. Leaving sciatica untreated can allow pain to become chronic.

Sciatica Attack Treatment and Relief

a doctor gives prescription to his patient

To alleviate symptoms during a flare-up:

  • Apply ice or heat packs to painful areas
  • Try OTC anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen
  • Do gentle stretches and modify activities to avoid aggravating the nerve
  • Rest and elevate your legs to reduce pressure on the sciatic nerve

Your doctor may also recommend muscle relaxants, prescription medications, or steroid injections to relieve attack pain. Surgery is rarely needed except for severe cases.

At Kaly, we make it easy to connect with top sciatica specialists during an attack. Our trusted providers have extensive training in relieving nerve pain. Book an appointment to get a customized treatment plan so you can find relief.

Frequently Asked Questions

What triggers a sciatica attack?

Common triggers include prolonged sitting/standing, heavy lifting, coughing/straining, obesity, disc degeneration, pregnancy, and autoimmune disorders. Even minor actions like bending over can sometimes provoke an attack.

What does a sciatica attack feel like?

Attacks cause sharp burning, shooting pain, numbness or tingling down the leg, sometimes with muscle spasms. Pain is often severe enough to limit normal activity.

How long does a typical sciatica attack last?

Duration varies greatly, from a few hours to a few weeks. Seek medical attention if an attack lasts more than 1-2 weeks without improvement.

What is the best way to stop a sciatica attack?

Applying ice packs, taking OTC anti-inflammatories, resting/elevating legs, and avoiding aggravating activities may help stop an attack. Your doctor can provide medication or injections for relief.

When should I go to urgent care for a sciatica attack?

Seek emergency care if you have muscle weakness in both legs, loss of bowel/bladder control, or sudden severe numbness. These require urgent medical care.

What are some exercises to relieve sciatica attack pain?

Gentle stretches like knee-to-chest, pelvic tilts, and lower back rotations may help reduce muscle tension during an attack. Check with your doctor before starting any new exercises.