The most important step anyone can take when they have an illness or a condition such as sciatica will be to learn as much as they can about the problem. Knowledge is power and by being well-informed about your condition, you’ll know what is happening, why it’s happening and what you can do about it.
What is sciatica?
Millions of people around the world suffer from sciatica and deal with the pain that comes with it on a daily basis. The sciatic nerve originates from 5 spinal roots at the lower pelvic region which merge to form one big nerve. The sciatic nerve is the longest, largest and widest nerve in the human body.
Whenever the nerve is compressed, pinched or under pressure, pain will arise. The type of pain that’s experienced will depend on the cause of the problem. It could be numbness or muscular weakness. It could be a tingling sensation that’s similar to “pins and needles” or it could be an excruciating pain that shoots down your legs. It all depends on the individual.
What are sciatica symptoms?
The common symptom associated with sciatic nerve damage is lower back pain. This can be an infrequent pain or a constant nagging pain. The pain may get worse with time. In some severe cases, the pain can be so debilitating that the patient is unable to function normally. All they can do is rest and deal with the pain. Their daily life revolves around pain management.
In most cases of sciatic nerve damage, the patient is able to recover and get back to normal. Only in very rare case the nerve is damaged permanently. Depending on the type of nerve damage, the sufferer may experience muscular weakness in the legs. Bladder and bowel control may fail too.
Since the nerve extends across the buttocks and then down to the legs, sitting for prolonged periods can exacerbate the pain. Active steps must be taken to reduce the inflammation and ease the areas around the affected area.
Sciatic nerve damage occurs when there is trauma or injury to the spinal cord. It could also be caused by wear and tear due to old age. A herniated disc which protrudes and exerts pressure against the sciatic nerve could also cause nerve damage. Let’s look at some of the common causes of sciatica:
- Spinal Stenosis
Spinal stenosis is a condition where there is a narrowing of the spinal canal and it’s a nerve disorder. The sufferer usually experiences pain while walking, sitting for an extended duration of time or even just standing. Since the nerves pass through passageways in the body, when the spinal canal gets narrow or clogged, the nerves get compressed and stenosis occurs which results in sciatica pain.
- Piriformis Syndrome
Sciatica can also occur when the nerve is irritated by the piriformis muscle. This also causes neuralgia. The piriformis muscle is located at lower spinal region and is used in hip rotation and for connecting the thighbones. When muscle spasms occur in this muscle, it causes the sciatic nerve which runs underneath to get compressed.
- Herniated Disc
When you have a herniated disc it may apply direct pressure on the sciatic nerve and lead to pain. Usually nerve compression in this case will cause numbness, muscle weakness, tingling sensations and pain.
Trauma can occur during accidents or injuries. This is one of the major causes of lower back pain. When there is external force applied on the lumbar spinal roots, nerve compression will occur. Depending on the severity of the injury, the nerves may be injured and even fragments of bone may break off and compress the nerve. This is an extremely painful situation to be in.
This is the result of degenerative disc disease. Usually a misalignment of the vertebra such as one vertebra slipping slightly forward over another may cause the nerve to get pinched and give rise to sciatica pain.
- Spinal Tumors
These tumors which may be cancerous or benign will develop in the lumbar area and cause nerve compression which leads to pain.
There are other causes for sciatica too. Whatever the cause may be, you should see a doctor for a proper examination to determine the root cause of your problem.
Sciatica treatment methods
Let’s look at some of the common treatment methods for sciatica. These can be divided into non-surgical methods and surgical methods. Usually, surgery is seen as the last resort and is reserved for cases where there is no discernible improvement in the condition even after all the other methods have been exhausted.
Usually, sciatica tends to go resolve itself after 6 to 12 weeks. During this period, you should do your best to alleviate your pain and rectify any possible problems that are causing it.
One of the causes of sciatica is sitting or standing for long periods. So, you’ll want to pay attention to that. Bad posture is another cause. You should fix that too.
Use ice packs on the affected area to numb the pain and reduce the inflammation. You can apply these ice packs for 20 minutes per session and repeat the process every 2 hours. You can also use heat packs on the affected area to boost blood circulation and relax the muscles in the area. This will bring some relief.
Sciatica stretches are exercises that you can do to ease the pain. They are very effective if done regularly. They’ll make you more flexible, ease the tension in the muscles affected and also prevent future recurring episodes. To start off you can check out these 3 specific sciatica stretches.
Over-the-counter medication such as ibuprofen and aspiring are also good for relieving the pain. Anti-inflammatory ointment and other analgesics can bring relief too. If none of these work, your doctor may administer an epidural steroid injection directly to the affected area. This will immediately reduce the swelling.
Surgery. If none of these options work, your doctor will discuss surgery with you and explain what you can expect, what the procedure will entail, etc.
As long as you get treatment early and do what you need to do, you can expect to recover from sciatica within 2 months or so. This is not a life-threatening disease. It is just a symptom that can be fixed by addressing the cause, which your doctor will do. Stay positive, get as much rest as you can and be proactive and consistent with the treatment methods.
Sciatica can be frustrating, however when the right treatment is applied early enough, this condition can be healed completely! If you’re currently suffering from pain caused by sciatica, check out this article to find out why you’ve been treating it wrong and what is an effective strategy to treating sciatica at home. Click here to read more…