When to Go to the ER for Sciatica Pain

Back Pain

Jan 15, 2024


If you struggle with sciatica, you may be used to the burning sensation in your lower body and can chalk it up to an everyday occurrence. But have you ever wondered, “When is the pain I’m feeling in my lower back, legs, and glutes considered an emergency? When should I go to the ER for sciatica pain?”

Understanding the severity of your sciatica symptoms is crucial in determining when to seek medical attention at an ER. While most cases of sciatica can be managed with home remedies and non-emergency medical care, there are instances where going to the emergency room will be crucial to managing your pain. 

What is sciatica?

Sciatica is a condition that defines shooting pain in the sciatic nerve that runs down the legs and lower back. The causes of sciatica can vary, but some of the more common causes include a herniated disc, spinal stenosis, or bone spurs. 

Sciatica as a condition doesn’t have its own cure as pain in the sciatic nerve is typically an underlying cause of other conditions, so treating the root cause of your pain is your best option for long-lasting pain relief.

What are sciatica symptoms?

The pain caused by sciatica symptoms can be short-lived or persistent and can make daily activities feel like more of a challenge. Symptoms can vary in intensity, ranging from mild discomfort to severe, debilitating pain that may require medical intervention.

Sciatica symptoms include:

  • Pain in the hips, lower back, and down the legs (typically on one side)
  • A burning or tingling sensation in these areas
  • Difficulty bending forward or backward
  • Difficulty bending your knees
  • Difficulty moving your leg or foot
  • Difficulty standing or sitting for long periods
  • Numbness in the legs or hips
  • Weak legs 

In some cases, sciatica pain can be so severe that it can cause immobility in the lower extremities. It’s not a pleasant condition to have, but if you’re aware of how to relieve sciatica pain when you have a flare-up, it can make the pain more bearable. 

How to relieve sciatica pain

Relieving sciatica pain often focuses primarily on reducing inflammation and pressure on the sciatic nerve. Managing back pain and other sciatica symptoms can often involve a combination of strategies that can be done at home or on the go if necessary:

  • Hot or cold packs: Applying ice packs or heating pads to the back, legs, and glutes can help alleviate discomfort.
  • Over-the-counter medications: Anti-inflammatory medicines like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can reduce inflammation and pain along the sciatic nerve. 
  • Stretches: Specific stretches and exercises can help relieve pressure on the sciatic nerve and strengthen the surrounding muscles. Plus, it feels nice!

As mentioned earlier, sciatica doesn’t have a cure per se, so targeting the symptoms to help better manage the pain should be your primary focus. However, there are some instances in which these at-home remedies won’t quite cut it. 

When is sciatica an emergency?

Sciatica is considered an emergency when your sciatica symptoms are accompanied by certain warning signs. Finding yourself wondering, “When should I go to the ER for sciatica pain?” Here are some scenarios in which it would be wise to head to an emergency room for evaluation. 

  • Sudden, severe pain in the side of the body: If your pain seems to come out of nowhere and is intolerable, seek medical help as soon as possible. 
  • Weakness or numbness in both legs: If you are unable to walk or stand due to both of your legs feeling weak or numb, medical intervention is likely needed. 
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control: When the nerves are pinched or compressed, sciatica can affect the nerves that control your bladder or bowel movements. 
  • Fever: If sciatica pain is accompanied by a high fever, it might indicate an underlying infection and should be checked out by a medical professional (Keep reading: How does the ER treat high fever?).
  • Pain while lying down: Due to increased pressure on the sciatic nerve, if your pain intensifies significantly while lying down or prevents you from finding a comfortable position, seeking medical attention might be a good idea (especially if you’re losing sleep due to the pain).  

Should I go to the ER for sciatica pain?

Can I go to the ER for back pain? Yes! When it comes to severe pain, you want to be seen as soon as possible. This is why we would recommend going to a freestanding emergency room like Complete Care so that you can experience hospital-grade care without the long wait times. 

Here at Complete Care, each of our emergency room facilities has on-site digital imaging (X-rays, CT scans, etc.) that can help us deliver a proper diagnosis in minutes and provide a more accurate treatment plan to manage your sciatica symptoms. Your treatments could involve epidural steroid injections to reduce inflammation around the affected nerve or, in rare cases, surgical procedures to relieve pressure on the nerve.

Need to go to the ER for sciatica pain? Trust Complete Care with your medical emergencies.

If you’re wondering, “When should I go to the ER for sciatica pain?” it’s always better to err on the side of caution. Knowing how to relieve sciatica pain on your own can be frustrating, especially if the symptoms are persistent and intolerable. That’s why we recommend heading to a freestanding ER for sciatica when you’re experiencing sudden, severe pain, numbness or weakness in your legs, fever, loss of bladder control, or pain while lying down. 

Here at Complete Care, our emergency staff is available 24/7 to help you manage your pain whenever you need it most. We have multiple locations in Texas (Austin, Corpus Christi, Dallas/Fort Worth, East Texas, Lubbock, and San Antonio) and in Colorado Springs. Our hospital-grade equipment coupled with low wait times can get you in, out, and back to your life in no time.

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