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4 Signs Your Sciatica is Improving; Last Stages of Sciatica

There are some signs by knowing which you will find your sciatica is getting better and you're healing.

Sciatica is usually caused due to inflammation of the sciatic nerve. Seeing the signs of sciatica healing gives you hope to go on with your treatment.

An inflamed sciatic nerve is a very painful condition and can limit day to day activities as basic as sitting, walking, standing and even sleeping.

The pain in the sciatic nerve is a treatable condition and the earlier it is treated, the faster it tends to heal. Some sciatica can heal on its own as well, however, the majority require professional help to fully resolve.

In this article, we have discussed the signs of improvement in sciatica and the stages of it’s recovery.

What is Sciatica?

Sciatica refers to inflammation of the sciatic nerve. Inflammation can result from sciatic nerve compression, irritation or an over stretched nerve from trauma or injury.
 
Sciatica may present with localized dull achy or sharp pain at the site of the injury but it may also refer down one or both legs as pain, numbness or tingling. In more severe instances, sciatica may even result in weakness and muscle atrophy. 
 
Sciatica is usually caused by the inflammation of the sciatic nerve pain with different symptoms.

How to Distinguish When My Sciatica is Improving?

These 4 signs show you’re close to a full recovery of your sciatic nerve pain:

#1: Reduced nerve inflammation and irritation.

#2: Improved level of Oxygen supply.

#3: Improved sensation in previously numbness areas.

#4: Significant reduction of shooting pains in achy locations.

Stages of sciatica healing are: reducing inflammation, improving oxygenation, regeration of nerve cells, nerve rehabiliation.

Sciatica goes through a series of healing stages that eventually result in its full recovery. The healing of sciatica always begins with reducing nerve inflammation and irritation first.

After the irritating mechanism is removed, the nerve starts to receive more Oxygen supply and it can start to regenerate nerve cells that have become hypoxic (lack of Oxygenation) from the injury.

The next stage of healing is when the numbness starts to dissipate and patients notice improved sensation in the areas that were numb before due to nerve cell regeneration.

Lastly, when full recovery has occurred, the patient no longer has numbness and or shooting pains and even the dull achy localized pain has resolved as well as a result of nerve desensitization.

Patients can return back to sports and other day to day activities with no issues.

The four stages of sciatica pain recovery are as follows:

Phase #1: Reducing Inflammation

The first phase of sciatica healing focuses on reducing inflammation along the sciatic nerve. This can be accomplished through a combination of rest, ice, pain relievers, and physical therapy.

During this phase, the patient’s movements may be significantly restricted, and they may experience trouble sleeping due to pain.

During this phase, it is important to work closely with your healthcare provider to develop a personalized treatment plan that addresses your specific needs and symptoms.

Prompt diagnosis, appropriate treatment, and proper self-care are key factors in ensuring a successful recovery from sciatica.

Phase #2: Improving Oxygenation

As the inflammation subsides and the sciatic nerve begins to heal, the focus shifts to improving oxygen delivery to the nerve. This is essential for nerve cell regeneration and the restoration of normal nerve function.

During this phase, the patient may notice a gradual reduction in pain intensity and frequency. This is because as nerve cells regenerate, they become less sensitive to pain signals and send fewer of them to the brain. Additionally, the inflammation that was causing the nerve compression has subsided, allowing the nerve to function more freely.

As the pain eases, the patient may begin to regain some movement and mobility. This is because the nerve is no longer sending pain signals that restrict movement.

It is important to note that the timeline for healing from sciatica can vary from person to person. Some people may experience significant improvement in a few weeks, while others may take several months to fully heal. 

Phase #3: Regeneration of Nerve Cells

This phase marks a significant milestone in the sciatica healing process, as it involves the actual repair and regeneration of damaged nerve cells within the sciatic nerve.

This phase typically begins after the inflammation has subsided and oxygenation has improved, allowing for the necessary conditions for nerve cell regeneration to take place.

During this phase, patients may experience further improvement in their mobility and range of motion. They may find it easier to bend, twist, and move their legs without experiencing pain or discomfort.

Additionally, the numbness or tingling sensations in the affected leg may gradually diminish, as the nerve fibers regain their ability to transmit sensory signals properly.

As the nerve cells regenerate, they begin to form new connections, restoring the nerve’s ability to transmit signals from the brain to the muscles and back.

This improved nerve function allows for greater control over the muscles in the leg, leading to enhanced mobility and reduced pain.

Nerves are cells called neurons. Neurons carry messages from the brain via the spinal cord. These messages are carried to muscles, which tell the muscle fibre to contract, which makes the muscles move.

During this phase, it is still important to continue with conservative treatment measures, such as regular exercise, stretching, and strengthening exercises under the guidance of a physical therapist. These activities can further promote nerve regeneration and prevent re-injury.

Phase #4: Nerve Rehabilitation and Desensitization

This phase marks the completion of the sciatica healing process, as it involves restoring the full function and sensitivity of the sciatic nerve. This phase typically begins after the inflammation, oxygenation, and nerve cell regeneration phases have been successfully completed.

During this stage, patients may experience complete resolution of their pain, numbness, and tingling sensations. They should also regain full range of motion and strength in their legs. With proper nerve rehabilitation exercises, the nerve becomes desensitized to pain signals, so that it can function properly without experiencing pain.

To fully complete the healing process and prevent recurrence of sciatica, it is important to continue with nerve rehabilitation exercises under the guidance of a physical therapist or a chiropractor.

These exercises can help strengthen the muscles around the spine and improve flexibility, which can help prevent future nerve compression.

Does Sciatica Get Worse Before Getting Better?

In some instances, it is very possible that after starting treatment for sciatica, for the sciatica to get worse for a few days after treatment.

This is typical as treatments will be working on hypersensitive nerves that are sending many pain signals to the brain. After these nerves are manipulated, the signals to the brain regarding pain can amplify.

However, this exacerbation often lasts between 1-7 days and patients typically start to feel significantly better once the body has had time to process the changes from the treatment and to reduce its inflammatory cascade to the area.

How Long Does Sciatica Pain Last?

Sciatica can be transitory lasting only a couple days or it can become more chronic such as more than 6 months if left untreated and ignored.

The duration of sciatica is case dependent.

Some have jobs or habits that may continuously aggravate the sciatic nerve without them being aware of it.

Seeking professional advice can help identify such habits and through elimination of aggravating activities, the sciatic nerve can actually start to heal by itself.

In other instances, treatments may be necessary to reduce the inflammation and to help the sciatic nerve’s healing with manual therapy (mostly physiotherapy) and proper exercise prescription.

How to Prevent Sciatica from Returning?

To summarize, Sciatica may heal independently but most often requires a professional’s attention. Healthcare professionals have the knowledge and ability to help you with sciatica treatment, either by manual therapy, exercise, or medication if required.

During the healing process of sciatica, nerve inflammation, and irritation are always reduced first. After this, the nerve can receive more oxygen and regenerate its cells, improving sensation in the numb areas.

Full recovery is achieved after the rehabilitation and desensitization stage. Patients should be ready to get back to full function and even back to their favorite sports and activities without recurrence of sciatica.

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28 Responses

  1. The description of these stages is very succinct and has been very helpful. I notice exactly many of the symptoms being described on each stage

    1. Sciatica is such a common condition and recognizing its signs and symptoms at different stages can help someone suffering some clarity as to what’s happening with their body. So glad you liked the article and thanks for reading.

  2. I have had Sciatica in my lower back from the end of August. I have tried nearly everything I can think of. Lately the pain is now in my knee quite painful. Does this mean it’s healing 🙏
    Thank you

    1. Hi Audrey, thank you for reading the article and asking a question. If the pain used to be lower down like foot/toes and now migrated up, this could be a good sign and means it is healing. However, if the pain is migrating down from the back to the knee, it could mean the sciatica is still active and requires attention. Generally, a sign of healing sciatica is when it moves up towards your back ie we don’t want it to spread. Hope that helps.

      1. Thank you for this description. It has been very helpful for diagnosing what stage my sciatica is at?
        In the Summer, I, stupidly, lifted some heavy shelving. A few days later I had some moderate back pain that lasted a few weeks. It reached about 4/10 on the pain scale, so it wasn’t really pain that I was unable to handle.
        Then, the pain in my back, gradually dissipated.
        A few days later, I noticed an aching pain, in my leg, around the calf region. It was a dull aching pain, that resembled a ‘growing’ pain. I remember having this kind of pain, in my legs, when I was a child.
        This has lasted for a few months, and comes & goes, without any reason. At its very worse, it has reached about 3/10 on the pain scale.
        Recently, it has moved up my leg and is now in the outer thigh region of my left leg.
        I am hoping that this means my sciatica, is reaching its end phase?
        I will keep you posted. 🙂

        1. Hi Charles, it sounds like your body has done a good job healing from the injury. Although it sounds like sciatica is slowly improving, we still suggest to have a professional take a look at the leg aches as it often is suggestive of ongoing nerve irritation. Keep us posted how it progresses and what you decide to do:)

      1. That’s very true as well. L5/S1 disc irritation can also cause sciatica. Any form of sciatica will benefit greatly being treated by a chiropractor.

  3. Have had sciatica pain since around the middle of October. Tried steroids and relaxers. Nothing seems to help. Should I be alarmed. The pain is about the same when it starts to hurt. On scale around six or seven. Some days I am pain free and then it returns. Will physical therapy help

    1. Hi Judy,it sounds like the issue is not improving on its own your pain level is high. we certainly recommend you to see a physical therapist or chiropractor near you for professional help. Best of luck with your sciatia. Let us know how it goes.

  4. Hello

    I have had sciatica for around 4 months now but recently within the last month it has been very bad, my pain I would say is at a 8/9. I can’t sleep or sit nor walk as the pain keeps me from doing anything. The pain migrates down to my knee into my shin. I have tried stretching it out to glide the nerve but nothing is working and I have taken too many painkillers that are not doing anything for me either. Will this ever improve?

    1. Hi Emma

      Sorry to hear that you are struggling with the sciatic pain. Have you been assessed by a professional who can give you the correct stretches and nerve glides to help with your specific condition? What I find is that sciatica can have many different presentations and a particular stretch or nerve glide may work for one person and not another. Therer are many variations of nerve glides and you have to make sure the one you are doing is actually working for your specific needs. Good luck.

      1. Hi, my sciatica began around late October last year, it has not really improved, I have gone for physiotherapy and see an orthopedic, but now the tingling and needling is so severe my doctor to me today that it’s a sign of improvement. Is that so

        1. Hi Sina,

          I am wondering what improvement you have had that your doctor indicated as a sign of improvement. If pain, tingling is getting worse, this is sign of further inflamation.

    2. Hi Emma
      I have had exactly the same symptoms as you for the past 7 weeks and have been subscribed various pain killers that didn’t do anything to quel the pain I asked the doctor if he could give me anything just so I could sleep as I was completely exhausted to go with the pain killers he gave me medication called oramorph that came in a medicine bottle to be taken before sleeping at night I have been talking this along with my other medication and it has helped me to sleep better therefore relaxing my muscles and sleep deprivation the pain has now started to get better day by day ask your doctor if this could help you

  5. Dear Dr. Sabbaghan,

    Thank you so much for setting this out so clearly- I have been searching for every little bit of hope – 3 weeks now with right buttock inflammation and leg pain- even worse the last 4 days pain spreading gone from thigh to calf to ankle – buttock pain very bad when trying to go to loo etc. agony ! You might be able to give a view on how long this real bad phase 1 might last ? it seems worse than last time.

    I had this 4 years ago when scan revealed small but significant right paracentral disc protrusion impinging on S1 nerve root and anterior aspect of the thecal sac. Some other mild bulging also.

    Also just wondering if the bulging disk has to shrink before the nerve root can heal ?
    Last Q. should I concentrate ice and heat on all areas i.e. disk- nerve in buttock- and leg pain sites ?

    Many thanks once again for great article.

    Kind Regards, Brian

    1. Hi Barian

      Glad to hear you found the article helpful. If the pain is radiating further down, this is a sign that inflammation if increasing and the disc may be further impinging on the nerve root. The bulging disc has to shring to remove the compression on the nerve root. However, if the bulge is significant and affecting your life severely, it may be more appropriate to fix it surgically. Ice/heat to the back is recommended but heat on the leg sites can result in symptom relief as well. So if it helps you, go ahead but remember the leg pain source is the lower back.

  6. Can you leave some exercises to do for extreme pain in leg and buttocks on left side please I’m really in pain and haven’t gone to doctor.If the exercises work that would be so brilliant. Thank you so much.

    1. Hi Lisa, if you are in extreme pain, I highly recommend you to do go your medical professional for a proper assessment. As sciatica can have different root causes, not all exercises will work for everyone. However some general exercise recommendations are the cat cow, the pigeon pose, and sciatic nerve flossing. You can look these up online and perform them as appropriate however, this is not legal medical advice.

  7. I first experienced sciatica pain last July. I’ve had pt, been to chiropractor, an mri which showed a ruptured disc at L5/S1, met with a spine specialist, taken a series of steroids, had an epideural in November and have done a series of exercises and walk 8-10,000 steps per day. The pain reduced significantly after the first few weeks in July and early August and I was basically pain free in November and December. The pain has returned to the 7-8 range. Do you recommend that I continue walking and exercising during this very painful period and just why did it come back so sorely?

    1. Hi Steven

      It sounds like you responded well once to therapy, therefore chances of you responding favourably again is high. The pain came back quickly most likely due to poor movement patterns that strain your disc. When you go back to therapy and once you are pain free, it is crucial for them to work on teaching you how to move more ideal to prevent the issue from re-occuring. Most people quit therapy too soon once they start to feel better and unfortunately, the pain comes back.

  8. I had the worst sciatic nerve pain several months ago. It lasted for 3/4 weeks. It shot down both my legs. Felt like burning electric shock that went on for 10/12 hours every night. Urgent Care prescribed anti-inflammatory meds that didn’t work. Muscle relaxers didn’t work. They gave me steroids that only worked for 2. They said they couldn’t give me more. Nothing was working. They told me to exercise but I couldn’t move. I never want to go through that again but when I was I didn’t want to live through it. If it happens again, I don’t know what I’ll do. I feel helpless with the medical treatments I was receiving. Today and for past three days I have back pain but not sciatica. I’m soon to be 62 years old.

    1. Im 63 had back and neck fusion in 2015. It really never did much for the pain but i had to get it done .For the past year in a half ive been living in a personal hell after blowing out another disk and its been pushing on the sciatica nerve I just cant go thru another fusion. Its really hard to keep one sanity and thoughts of ending it all is a constant companion now.

      1. Hi John

        I am sorry to hear about your pain. You don’t have to get a fusion and if the disc is severely herniated, they may be able to operate by removing part of the disc through a discoplasty or other less severe approaches. It is best to consult your doctor and surgeon to discuss all your options.

    2. Hi Sharol

      I am glad things have improved. Remember, when pain and inflammation is under control is the best time to work on a proper strengthening routine to prevent the pain from coming back. I highly recommend you to work with a knowlegable rehab specialist to assist you in learning how to move better to prevent pain from re-occuring.

  9. What a great article! I have been suffering from sciatica nerve pain snce June of 2023. I was in excruciating pain until I found the right physical therapy. I just want to know iwhether or not I had inflammation because the cortisone shots did not work for me. My pain is from my disc compressing my sciatica nerve. Why was I prescribed the shots of there was no inflammation?

    1. Hi Linda, thank you for your feedback and I am glad you enjoyed the article. You most likely were prescribed the cortisone to alleviate pain due to inflammation. However, your main issue causing you pain may have been something else. It is always difficult to predict if a cortisone shot will be helpful or not but it is something some doctors try to give you some symptom relief.

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