Sciatica is a medical condition characterised by pain shot down from the lower back to leg. This pain could go down the back, outside or front of the leg. Generally sciatica is caused by a herniated disc putting pressure on sciatic nerve. Sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body that begins in the lower back and runs through the buttock down the lower limb. If you have sciatica you may experience weakness, numbness or burning sensation down your legs and even to your toes.
Causes of Sciatica Pain
Sciatica is generally caused by a pinched nerve affecting more of the nerves in the lower spine region. As the sciatic nerve passes through the leg, it can be pinched inside or outside of the spinal canal.
General causes for Sciatica Include
- Herniated or slipped disc applying pressure on the nerve roots.
- Narrowing of spinal canal in the lower back, also called Lumbar Spinal Stenosis.
- Breaking of discs that act as cushion between the vertebrae. Such a condition is called degenerative disc disease.
- Spondylolisthesis, a condition in which one vertebra slips over another one.
- Muscle spasms in the back.
Overweight, wearing high heels, sleeping on a hard mattress also makes your back pain worse.
Symptoms of Sciatica
The common symptoms of sciatica are
- Lower back pain.
- Pain in the rear and leg while sitting.
- Hip pain.
- Burning or tingling sensation in the leg.
- Numbness, weakness and difficulty in moving the leg.
- A shooting pain while standing.
If you are suffering from the above symptoms, consult a general physician. If necessary the general physician will refer you to an osteopathic physician or chiropractor depending on your condition.
Treatment for Sciatica Nerve Pain
If you are diagnosed with sciatica, don’t worry! There are many effective treatments for sciatica. In the earlier stage, sciatica pain can be relieved with home remedies. There are both surgical and non-surgical options available in medical treatments.
Sciatica Treatment at Home
It may be difficult for you to think about exercise when you are suffering from sciatica. But research shows that resting too much can worsen the symptoms. But adding gentle exercise to your daily routine can ease your sciatica pain. Here the key word is gentle. Inflammation can improve when you are moving. So a short walk should help you there. Also exercise triggers the release of endorphins which reduce your perception of pain. Make sure to take the opinion of your physiotherapist about form so that you don’t injure yourself further.
- Limited Bed Rest
When the pain is too much to bear, three days off your feet should do the trick. It is critical that you lie on a firm mattress or even floor. Don’t sleep on the mattress that is too hard or too soft. It is best to get back to your regular activities after the rest.
Stretching can help you to relieve some of the pain. With gentle stretching, spinal flexibility and range of motion will improve and also build core and spinal strength. The added advantage is that it is easy to do the stretching.
- Physical Therapy
If you are not comfortable with doing exercise on your own, then a physical therapist can develop some exercise routines for you and also helps you with your posture to reduce the pressure on the sciatic nerve. It is always important that a therapist should approve the exercises and stretching you are doing.
- Hot and Cold Packs
Heat and ice therapy will provide immediate relief from sciatic pain. Apply hot and cold packs on your lower back fr several minutes, few times a day. For a few days start with cold pack and then for the next few days hot pack first. Ice can help with the inflammation while heat improves the blood flow to the painful area. These packs can also help with muscle spasms. Always use a barrier between skin and the packs to protect your skin.
Also alternate therapies like Yoga, acupuncture and massage can help with sciatic pain. For the starting stage pain, these home remedies are the best treatments for sciatica.
- Over the Counter Medications
If your inflammation is not controlled with the home remedies, your first option is over the counter medications which help with inflammation. Anti-inflammatory drugs helps ease the pain of sciatica symptoms. Acetaminophen and Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen are helpful to relieve the pain. But you should maintain caution while using these drugs for extended period without doctor’s advice as they have health risks.
Medical Treatment for Sciatica Pain
When home remedies are not helping with the pain, it is time you should visit the doctor. A number of options are available for treating sciatica if you seek for medical attention. Based on your condition, the doctor will prescribe suitable medical treatment to ease your pain.
If over the counter medications are not helping, your doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory or muscle relaxants. Steroid injections help when they are injected directly into the irritated nerve. Tricyclic anti-depressants such as amitriptyline and anti-seizure medications also work to some extent.
When you exhaust all other options, surgery is the last resort. Even after 3 months of taking medications, stretching, resting then you have to consider surgery as your last resort. For some cases, sciatica can cause a condition that makes you lose control of your bowels and bladder. Such a condition is called equine syndrome, which requires immediate surgery.
There are two major surgical procedures for sciatica. They are diskectomy and laminectomy.
During this procedure, the damaged portion of the herniated disc or whatever that is putting pressure on your sciatic nerve is removed. It can be a bone spur or something. Diskectomy is the best option for treating the pain that shoots down your arms or legs.
This procedure is less painful and the patient can be sent home on the very same day.
This is also known as decompression surgery as it removes the back part of a vertebra that covers your spinal canal to relieve pressure on spinal cord or nerves. These overgrowths are called bone spurs and are common with aging process in some people.