Sciatica pain can most often be treated at home. But in some situations going to the emergency room can be the best way to get pain relief.

Sciatica affects anywhere from 1% to 5% of people each year, and for many of these people, the feeling of a flare-up is all too familiar — the uncomfortable tingling, the dull burning, the painful ache that makes it hard to get comfortable. And if the flare-up is severe enough, the excruciating pain makes it difficult to even get out of bed, let alone function.

In some cases, this pain can be severe enough that it warrants a visit to the emergency room (ER). But given that most sciatica treatments can be done at home, what can the hospital even do for sciatica pain, and when should you go to the ER for sciatica?

Ahead, we’ll cover when it might be beneficial to seek out urgent medical attention for sciatica pain, as well as a few tips for dealing with sciatica pain at home.

If you’re one of the millions of people living with sciatica, you know exactly how painful this condition can be. So, it’s no surprise that people with severe sciatica might find themselves in the ER of the hospital from time to time.

When you go to the ER for severe sciatica pain, their primary approach will be to offer you some form of pain relief. Here are some of the medications that the hospital may use to help reduce your pain levels:

  • Pain medications: Sometimes over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications aren’t strong enough to break through severe sciatica pain. In these situations, stronger nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), opioids, and nonopioids analgesics may be used for pain relief.
  • Muscle relaxants: Muscle relaxants are a type of medication that may help reduce severe sciatica pain during flare-ups. Although muscle relaxants don’t directly provide pain relief, they can help relax the back muscles to prevent painful muscle spasms.
  • Anticonvulsants: Anticonvulsant medications are primarily used to treat epilepsy, however, they may also be used as a treatment option for nerve pain. In cases of severe sciatica, anticonvulsants like gabapentin may be used for pain relief.
  • Corticosteroids: Corticosteroids are one of the most common medications prescribed to help reduce inflammation in the body. When it comes to sciatica pain, corticosteroids may help reduce the inflammation and pain associated with the inflamed nerves in the back.

Although the hospital can offer treatment options for acute episodes of sciatica pain, it’s important to understand that chronic sciatica usually requires long-term treatment. You should always follow up with your doctor after any hospital visit for sciatica pain to discuss other treatment options that you can take advantage of at home.

Did you know?

All of the medications mentioned above can also be prescribed by outpatient clinics. The only difference between the two locations would be that the medications can be given by IV in an ER and not in a clinic.

Some outpatient locations and telemedicine have restrictions about prescribing controlled substances also. Still, a regular clinic with in-person care can prescribe oral versions of all of those medications and get you some relief from sciatica pain.

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Sciatica is often treated with lifestyle changes, pain relief medications, heat/ice therapy, and physical therapy, all of which can help alleviate the pain and discomfort associated with the condition. Generally, this treatment is done either at home or in a doctor’s office. But in some cases, an ER visit might be warranted for severe lower back pain when other treatments can’t help.

If you’re experiencing sciatica pain that’s not responding to your typical treatment approaches, you may benefit from a visit to the ER for pain relief. If necessary, they can prescribe stronger medications — or even other medication options you don’t have available — to help you manage your pain until you can get to a doctor for proper treatment.

It’s also important to be aware of other serious symptoms that require immediate medical attention. If you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms you should seek medical attention right away as this could indicate a more serious problem:

  • severe pain on both sides of your hip
  • weakness or numbness in your legs or genitals
  • sudden trouble urinating or defecating

Coverage of ER visits tends to vary depending on what type of health insurance plan you have:

  • If you have Medicaid, all state Medicaid plans cover ER visits for sudden or worsening symptoms. In some cases, you may owe a small copayment — but because Medicaid plans can vary from state to state, this depends entirely on your plan.
  • If you have Medicare, visiting the ER for sudden, severe sciatica pain will likely be covered under your plan. However, you may still have to pay out of pocket for other costs, such as your deductible, copayment, and coinsurance.
  • If you have private insurance, you’ll find all of the coverage rules for your specific health insurance plan in your Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC). Generally, most private insurance plans cover ER visits, but there may be out-of-pocket costs.

If you’re wondering whether an ER visit for your sciatica pain is covered under your health insurance plan, it can be helpful to reach out to a representative to ask about coverage before seeking ER services.

Sciatica pain can range from painful to downright excruciating. But if your pain still feels manageable, there are some steps you can take at home for relief. If you’re currently dealing with a sciatica flare-up, here are three tips you can try right now for pain relief:

  • Gently stretch out your back: Stretching is a great way to help relieve sciatica pain, and many experts recommend stretching often when you have sciatica. Try to find stretches that can relieve pressure on the spine and hips, like the sitting spinal stretch or standing hamstring stretch.
  • Use an ice pack or heating pad: Combining cold and hot therapy is an effective way to help reduce sciatica pain. Using an ice pack on the area can help reduce inflammation and pain, while using a heat source can help improve blood flow and bring some relief to sore muscles.
  • Try OTC medications: Most OTC pain medications can provide some relief for mild to moderate sciatica pain. However, if you’ve been prescribed prescription-strength medications to take during flare-ups, don’t be afraid to use those medications first if you need to.

Sometimes you can try all of the steps above, and you still might not find relief. If this happens — or if the pain has gotten worse — it might be best to schedule an appointment with your doctor or consider seeking immediate medical care.

When you’re living with acute or chronic sciatica pain, it can sometimes be difficult to figure out the best approach for managing the condition. Here are a few more things to keep in mind when it comes to living with, and managing, sciatica pain.

Why is my sciatica pain getting worse?

Sciatica develops when the sciatic nerve, the long nerve that runs from the buttocks down the back of the legs, becomes irritated, inflamed, or compressed. If you have sciatica and have noticed an increase in pain levels, it’s possible that lack of exercise, frequent sitting, or something else is causing more irritation and inflammation in the nerve.

What is the best injection for sciatica?

While there are multiple medications that work well for sciatica pain, intravenous corticosteroids may be one of the most effective pain-relief options for sciatica. According to one smaller study, a once-daily injection of dexamethasone was effective at reducing pain and shortening the length of stay in 70% of orthopedic inpatients with sciatica-related pain.

Do muscle relaxers help sciatica?

People with sciatica often experience muscle tightness and muscle spasms in their lower back, which can place increased pressure on the sciatic nerve and lead to increased pain. Muscle relaxers are a type of medication that can help relax the muscles and reduce the tightness and spasms that may be making sciatica symptoms worse.

Should I see a doctor or chiropractor for sciatica?

In mild to moderate sciatica, you can usually work with your primary care doctor for at-home treatments, such as medications, stretching, and hot and cold therapy. But for more severe sciatica, orthopedists, neurologists, physical therapists, and chiropractors can all be an integral part of someone’s care team to help them manage their long-term symptoms and find relief.

What’s the best cream for sciatica pain?

When it comes to managing sciatica pain, topical medications may help provide some relief for mild to moderate pain. If you’re looking for topical pain relief, options like lidocaine cream, CBD cream, and even IcyHot cream can help offer temporary pain relief from sciatica.

How long does excruciating sciatica pain last?

Depending on the severity of your sciatica, acute flare-ups of sciatica pain generally last between 1 to 2 weeks. However, some people may experience sciatica pain that resolves more quickly, or lasts much longer, depending on the severity of their condition.

Sciatica pain can be a debilitating part of life for the millions of people who experience severe sciatica flare-ups every year. And for people who experience this severe pain, when at-home treatments can’t provide the pain relief they need to feel better, a visit to the ER at the hospital can help.

If you do end up in the hospital for sciatica pain, it’s always important to follow up with your doctor to let them know about your symptoms and to discuss alternative treatment options, if needed.