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Healthwise Maui

Q: How long do I have to rest a pulled muscle before I can start exercising again?

Dr. Warren “Vic” Ayers, orthopedics urgeon & joint specialist, Pacific Permanente Group: Slipping, lifting something heavy, or just overdoing it during sports can cause you to strain, pull, or even tear one of your muscles or the tendons it’s attached to. While these kinds of injuries can be painful, you can usually take care of them at home.

With a muscle strain, you might see swelling, redness, or bruising, and the area may be painful both when you use the muscle and when you’re at rest.

Apply ice packs to the area while the muscle is in the stretched position, elevate the affected area, apply compression and support with an elastic bandage, and rest the muscle by avoiding activity. You can take an anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen to reduce pain and swelling.

Three days after the inflammation has gone down, you can start applying heat to the area, to help the muscle heal.

See a doctor if the pain doesn’t subside within a week, if the area is numb or bleeding, or if you can’t move your arms or legs.

How long you have to rest depends on the injury. It could be three to six weeks for a mild strain, or several months for something more severe. But in most cases, you will recover with at-home treatment if you give it enough time.

Q: What is sciatica?

Dr. Christopher Taleghani, neurosurgeon, Maui Brain and Spine: If you feel pain that radiates down from your lower back through your hips, buttocks and leg, it may be sciatica. Sciatica refers to symptoms caused by a pinching of the sciatic nerve, which runs from your lower back down your legs. It can cause pain, numbness and tingling anywhere along the path of the nerve. The pain might feel like a dull ache, a burning sensation, or a shooting pain that comes suddenly like an electric shock. It usually only affects one side of the body.

The most common cause of sciatica is a herniated or slipped disc, which compresses one or more of the lumbar nerve roots that make up the sciatic nerve. People who sit for long periods of time are at greater risk of sciatica, and age, obesity and diabetes also increase risk.

Mild sciatica often goes away on its own, or it can be treated through a combination of anti-inflammatory medicine and physical therapy. In severe cases, a doctor might recommend a series of anti-inflammatory injections into your lower back to reduce swelling. Surgery is also sometimes necessary for people whose sciatica does not respond to treatment and who are in severe pain.

While not all cases of sciatica can be prevented, you can reduce your risk by practicing safe lifting techniques, maintaining good posture to relieve pressure on your back, avoiding sitting for long periods, and exercising to strengthen your core muscles, and stopping smoking.

* Physicians, providers and administrative staff who practice at Maui Health System hospitals and clinics answer questions from the public in “Healthwise Maui,” which appears on Thursdays. Maui Health System operates Maui Memorial Medical Center, Maui Memorial Medical Center Outpatient Clinic, Kula Hospital & Clinic and Lana’i Community Hospital and accepts all patients. To submit a question, go to the website at mauihealthsystem.org/contact.