Sciatica is a condition that can occur when the sciatic nerve is inflamed due to irritation, compression or being overstretched.
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?
How to Distinguish When My Sciatica is Improving?
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
This can occur when we have identified the source of the nerve irritation and we work towards removing that irritation. At this stage, the patient’s movements are significantly affected and it may even interrupt sleeping.
Phase #2: Improving Oxygenation
As nerve cells regenerate, the sciatic nerve will slow down sending pain signals to the brain and patients perceive that as a reduction of pain intensity and frequency or they may notice that pain does not radiate as far down the legs.
In this phase, the patient starts to regain some movement and mobility and may notice the pain more episodically with some numbness in the affected region.
Phase #3: Regeneration of Nerve Cells
During this stage, patients usually have further improvement in mobility and range of motion and may be able to participate in most of their day to day activities without hindrance due to pain.
Phase #4: Nerve Rehabilitation and Desensitization
This phase is achieved by nerve rehabilitation exercises that further reduce the nerve sensitivity. Desensitization is important as it also helps prevent recurrence of the injury.
In this stage, full recovery has occurred and patients can return back to full activities and sports.
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 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.