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Emergency Department Discharge Instructions

Sciatica

Emergency Care Discharge Instructions

Instruction summary

Sciatica is a pain that comes from the spine. The spine is made up of a column of small bones (called “vertebrae”) that have spongey cushions stacked between them, called “discs.” These discs are cushions that act as shock absorbers for our spine. Sometimes these discs are injured and protrude outwards. When discs protrude outwards, they can push on nerves and cause pain. This pain moves along the pathway of the nerve, and can be excruciating. If sciatica is happening in your lower back, it is typical for the pain to shoot down the back of your leg, along the path of the nerve.

For most people, sciatica gets better within 4-6 weeks.

If you were prescribed pain medication, take it as directed. If you are under the age of 70 and have no kidney problems, this usually means starting with ibuprofen (which is the same thing as Advil or Motrin) or acetaminophen (same thing as Tylenol, which is safe in all age groups). You may have been given a stronger pain medication, such as Tylenol #3 or Percocet. These stronger medications can make you drowsy, so do not drive or operate heavy machinery when taking either of them. Tylenol #3 and Percocet usually also cause constipation, so take an over-the-counter medicine for constipation, such as Metamucil or Docusate, at the same time as taking these medications.

Complete bedrest is no longer recommended. However, do take it easy for a few days, and avoid all heavy lifting (which includes lifting children). Don’t sit for prolonged periods, because this actually increases the strain on your back. When you are lying in bed, a firm mattress is best. See if putting pillows underneath your knees helps.

If the pain persists for longer than a few weeks, talk to your family doctor about physiotherapy.

Spine surgery becomes an option if the pain continues for months. Given the high risks associated with operating on the spine, most spine surgeons do not want to see patients until they have experienced six months or more of daily pain.

Reasons to return to the ER
  1. Difficulties with urination (no urine for >6 hours despite attempts to pee)
  2. Incontinence of stool (pooping without meaning to)
  3. Weakness in both of your legs
  4. Numbness in the top part of your inner thigh on both sides
  5. Fever (≥38.0 °C or 100.4 °F)