I think “Can sciatica be cured?” is a very important question to address for anyone who is suffering from sciatica. There is a lot of misleading, ill-advised or plain devious information out there about whether or not you can cure sciatica, so hopefully I can clear up a few questions through this post.
Aims of this post:
- To debate whether sciatica can be cured or not
- To talk about when surgery might be needed for people with sciatica
- To talk about other options for beating sciatica
Click the video to hear Will Harlow’s answer to the question “Can sciatica be cured?”
The answer to the question of “Can sciatica be cured?” is not as simple as yes or no.
The first thing we need to do when we ask this question is define what we mean by “cured”.
If we define “cured” as “using a reliable medicine, surgery or other “quick fix” method that gets rid of sciatica every time”… Then the answer is NO, unfortunately sciatica cannot be “cured”.
BUT, if we ask the question “can you get BETTER from sciatica?” – then the answer is: ABSOLUTELY YES!
Let me explain…
The term “cured” suggests that we have a method that we can use to fix the underlying problem – like a disc bulge or herniation – and relieve someone of all the pain associated with it.
Unfortunately, that simply isn’t possible. Yes, we have surgical techniques that can help to change structures in a way so that they aren’t as problematic anymore… But as any surgeon will tell you these methods are far from miraculous miracle cures.
Yes, they do help some people. But no, they aren’t very reliable.
In fact, over a third of people actually get WORSE following surgery.
However, it is absolutely possible to fully recover from sciatica without surgery, even though there are no “miracle cures” (despite what you read online or watch on YouTube when you type that question in.)
A lot of “miracle cure for sciatica” claims that you see online are posted up there because of vested interests. The people behind these claims are often out to make some cash from people in pain – I’m sure you’ll agree, not good.
However, despite the fact that we need to exercise caution when believing everything we read online, sciatica can be “fixed” in many cases without the need for surgery or injections.
No miracle cures for sciatica
The simplest way to explain it is this:
The way we “cure” sciatica is by doing everything we can to encourage your body to fix sciatica itself.
No chiropractor, physiotherapist, osteopath or surgeon can “cure” sciatica per se, but through advice and certain techniques we can give your body the best chance to heal itself.
Sometimes, these effects are so dramatic it can seem as though you’ve been suddenly “fixed”, but I assure you that there is no way someone can “pop a disc back into place” or “suddenly reduce inflammation” with one treatment session.
Yes, occasionally these treatments can provide massive temporary pain relief, but the underlying problem won’t have been fixed by someone else.
The only way this recovery process can occur is through the efforts of your own body.
This is one of the reasons I have always advocated a “whole body approach” to anyone that asks me the question can sciatica be cured or not.
So, in essence, the only thing that can “cure” sciatica is your body itself – which is a very clever machine indeed!
The role of the brain
One of the other reasons for us not being able to accurately predict who will and who won’t fully recover from sciatica is the fact that everyone’s brain reacts differently to the experience of pain.
Especially in people who have been in pain for a long time, the brain undergoes physical, measurable changes that can be seen on certain scans.
These changes aren’t good – they are the brain getting used to being in pain, which makes it harder to get better over the long-term.
That’s why time is definitely of the essence when it comes to getting better from sciatica – you don’t want to be stuck with it for years, as the longer you’ve had it, the longer it takes to recover.
Surgery for sciatica
One scenario when everything is slightly different is with surgery. You can read all about my opinions on spinal surgery HERE.
There are some conditions that require urgent medical attention; you can read about them HERE.
Surgery does not directly “cure” sciatica, but when people ask “can sciatica be cured with surgery?”, often they are told “yes”.
Surgery changes a structure within the spine by either cutting, removing or shaving an offending piece of bone or disc away. While this does not directly cure sciatica, it usually removes the structure that was causing the problem. In successful cases, this allows the irritation and compression on the affected nerve to settle down.
However, surgery does not have a 100% success rate – far from it.
Surgery is certainly not always necessary and may actually be the worst thing you can do when seeking a cure for sciatica.
You should ALWAYS be sure that you have exhausted all possible avenues for treatment before you attempt to organise surgery. If you act too soon, you can make the problem much worse.
Surgery should be saved for special cases only, and is required in less than 5% of cases of sciatica. The other 95% would be far better off treating it naturally, like the methods I describe on this website and in my courses.
Read more about surgery for disc bulges and herniations HERE.
So can sciatica be cured without surgery?
First, let’s look at what causes sciatica, and how each condition can get better.
To recap from my Ultimate Sciatic Guide, we said that the most common causes of sciatica are:
- Intervertebral disc problems
- Age-related changes to facet joints and discs
- Piriformis syndrome
- Spinal stenosis
So, can sciatica be cured?
You’re probably asking:
If all of these problems are due to structures in the back, how can we cure sciatica without directly fixing that structure?
That would be a really sensible question to ask right now. And the answer is that, often, we don’t have to change the structures directly to get really effective relief from sciatica.
The good news is that our bodies are fantastic at eventually returning us to a healthy state, provided we do all the right things to help it.
When someone suffers from a disc prolapse (the condition which causes the inner material from the disc to leak out), over a number of weeks to months, the body will usually re-absorb the disc material and the disc will repair.
Of course, it takes time for this to occur, because the discs themselves have a poor blood supply and a blood supply is needed in order for healing to occur.
Sometimes, in one of the biggest mysteries to the medical profession, you can actually become symptom-free despite the disc bulge NOT getting better! We don’t fully understand how this happens, but we see it all the time when we re-scan someone after rehab.
With a facet joint problem, if something is done to “even up” the movement that occurs at each of the joints in the back, the stiffness in that one particular joint will ease relatively quickly and the symptoms will subside.
Even in ageing changes (like degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis, wear and tear), although we can’t reverse the changes that occur due to age, when stiffness is reduced through the right movement techniques and nerves are helped to “glide” more freely, symptoms reduce dramatically.
These facts are why people get good results with treatment like chiropractic, physiotherapy and osteopathy.
So, even though we can’t immediately change the “structural problem” in each of these cases, we can dramatically reduce the symptoms that the person is experiencing.
In very extreme cases, surgery is sometimes required.
However, non-surgical options are the right way forward for >95% of people suffering from sciatica.
Can we feel better without structural changes?
I have had many patients with sciatica who have had an MRI scan to show a disc bulge or prolapse. They then went on to get lots of physiotherapy treatment, and reported their symptoms had improved by well over 90%, which is great.
However, some of them had a repeat MRI scan done after treatment, which looked almost identical to the previous one, even though their symptoms had improved greatly!
So these guys were able to get back to their daily life, with minimal pain, without having to “cure” the underlying condition that caused their sciatica in the first place.
Like I said before, the body is incredible at healing itself, provided we do the right things to help it. The advice about diet, sleep and exercise on this website is a great place to start when trying to recover from sciatica.
So in summary, the answer is “Yes”, sciatica can get better, but we don’t have a “miracle cure” for it that works for everyone.
I hope this article has helped to answer some of your questions; if you’ve found it useful I would love to hear your feedback!
Simply leave a comment below, or get in contact with me via email: email@example.com
As always, thanks for reading!
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