Are you experiencing pain and discomfort that runs from your lower back down to your legs? You might have sciatica. It’s a common condition caused by irritation, inflammation, pinching, or compression affecting the nerves in your lower back.
Sciatica is just a symptom that most people recover from after getting professional help, adequate treatment, and proper care. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about sciatica, from causes and symptoms to self-care tips and possible treatment options.
What Is Sciatica?
Sciatica is a pain that stems from an injury or irritation to your sciatic nerve. This nerve extends from the back of your pelvis and runs down the back of your thigh, and that is the reason why you feel that numbness or tingling sensation in one part of the leg or hip.
Your sciatic nerve is the longest and thickest nerve in your body. Despite its name, this nerve is a bundle of nerves that come from five nerve roots branching off from your spinal cord.
You have two sciatic nerves, one on each side of your body. Each sciatic nerve runs through your hip and buttocks on one side. They each go down the leg on their side of your body until they reach just below your knee. Once there, they split into other nerves that connect to parts farther down, including the feet and toes.The pain may feel when:
- Standing or sitting
- Walking for few minutes
What Are Symptoms?
Having sciatica means you can experience mild to severe pain in any part of the body that is connected through this bunch of nerves. The pain can be felt in your lower back, hips, buttocks, or legs. However, some symptoms may extend as far down as your feet and toes, depending on the specific nerve affected. Most of the common symptoms of sciatica may include:
- Lower back or feet pain
- Tingling or numbness sensation
- Muscle weakness
- Urinary incontinence
What Causes Sciatica?
Sciatica is often triggered as a result of an underlying condition that affects any of the five spinal nerves that bundle with the sciatic nerve. One of the most common causes of sciatica is a herniated disc in the spine, although there are other conditions that can trigger it, including:
- Spinal stenosis,
- Degenerative disk disease
- Piriformis syndrome
- Spinal tumors, although this is relatively rare
There are also risk factors that can cause sciatica, such as:
- Mental stress
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Poor posture
- Occupations that involve heavy lifting or prolonged sitting
Understanding the potential causes of sciatica is the first step towards finding effective treatment and relief. Remember, you should consult with a healthcare professional to accurately diagnose the cause of your sciatica and develop a personalized treatment plan.
How is Sciatica Treated? Exploring Your Options
When it comes to treating sciatica, the goal is to reduce pain and increase mobility. Luckily, there are various treatment options available, whether you’re dealing with persistent sciatica or a more severe case. In some instances, surgery may even be considered if other treatments prove ineffective.
Let’s start by discussing self-treatment options you could try for milder cases of sciatica.
Ice and Heat: Applying cold compresses or ice packs can help reduce pain and swelling during the initial days of sciatica. You can use an ice pack or a bag of frozen vegetables (wrapped in a towel to prevent skin injuries) and apply them for 20 minutes at a time, several times a day.
After a few days of cold therapy, you can try alternating 20 minutes at a time between hot and cold packs to further alleviate discomfort.
Over-the-Counter Medicines: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, are commonly recommended to help reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation associated with sciatica.
Stretching and Activity: An experienced instructor can teach you proper stretching techniques and exercises that not only target the affected areas but also focus on strengthening your core muscles.
If self-treatment doesn’t calm the pain, your healthcare provider may suggest other treatments. These treatments have a similar approach to self-care, but with professional guidance. Here are some possibilities:
Prescription Medications: Painkillers, muscle relaxers, and other prescribed medications may help alleviate sciatica symptoms.
Physical Therapy: The goal of physical therapy is to identify exercises and movements that reduce pressure on the affected nerve. Physical therapists can guide you through stretching exercises and recommend low-impact activities that could assuage the pain.
Spinal Injections: In more severe cases, health providers could administer injections containing corticosteroids to provide short-term relief—usually with an effect lasting up to three months.
More severe cases of sciatica may require surgery. Typically, healthcare providers only consider surgery if there are signs of nerve damage or if severe pain hampers normal daily activities, even after six to eight weeks of conservative treatment.
There’s hope for relief from sciatica. Our specialists at Mobility Bone & Joint Institute are ready to give you the best treatment options to reduce pain, improve mobility, and restore your quality of life. Contact us today, give us a call at (978) 794-1946 or (603) 898-2244 to schedule an appointment, or take advantage of our convenient walk-in clinic in Haverhill and Andover, MA, or in Salem, NH, open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Let us help you regain stability and find relief!