Sciatica is the pain that is caused due to irritation (mild or severe) of the sciatic nerve; often is a condition that occurs because of a compressed nerve in the spine’s lower part. The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body that starts at the spinal cord through hips and buttocks and eventually runs down to the legs. Any irritation to this nerve can feel as mild or severe pain, numbness or weakness in back, buttock and legs. Generally, sciatica affects one side of the body.
The bones that form the spine are divided and supported by connective tissues known as discs. When a disc is worn out because of age or an injury, its soft center tends to protrude from the hard-outer cover, pressurizing the nerves around it. When the nerve affected is the sciatic nerve, the intense pain is referred to as sciatica. The sciatica nerve can also be compressed or affected by bone spurs or narrowing of the spine. Sometimes sciatica can be caused because of an underlying injury to the nerve or a part that impacts the nerve. The condition mostly causes intense pain but is easily manageable with proper medical care.
Symptoms of Sciatica
While sciatica is often confused with back pain, it is much more intense and wide-ranging. Some of the symptoms that help identify sciatica are:
- Acute pain along the sciatic nerve (extending from the lower back to the buttock and then to the legs)
- Numbness in the leg
- Tingling or burning in feet and toes
- Weakness or difficulty in moving the affected leg or foot
- Consistent ache in either side of the back
- Difficulty in standing
As mentioned, sciatica generally impacts only one side of the body. The intensity of the pain also differs from person-to-person; some can experience sudden, sharp pain, while others might experience infrequent pain along with irritation, which can eventually get worse. Some people also experience pain like an electric shock which is worsened upon coughing or sneezing.
While mild sciatica is easily manageable with certain precautions and self-care measures; however, to ease symptoms that are more intense in nature or symptoms that are worsening or have the potential to worsen overtime – immediate medical help must be taken. If along with pain, you experience uncontrollable bowel or bladder, then one must call for emergency help.
Causes of Sciatica
Sciatica is not a condition it is rather a symptom of different medical conditions with the maximum being caused due to herniated disc. A herniated disc occurs when a disc is pushed out of its place, which pressurizes the sciatic nerve. Other causes of sciatica include:
- Lumbar spinal stenosis
- Degenerative disc disease
- Muscles spasm
- Overgrowth of bone
In many cases, sciatica can be caused because of one or more of the above conditions/problems.
Other factors that put one at more risk for sciatica are:
- Increasing Age
- Professions that are physically burdening or exhausting (such as carrying a heavy load on the back)
- Lack of physical activity
- Prolonged sitting
Complications of sciatica
Sciatica is an easily manageable and treatable condition; however, lack or delay of medical care can cause complications such as:
- Loss of feeling in the concerned leg
- Weakness in the concerned leg
Treatment of sciatica
The condition can be treated without surgery. Medications to relieve pain can be taken for resolving the problem temporarily. Also, hot-and-cold ice pack therapy can be used to relieve symptoms, along with certain physiotherapy. In some cases, if the pain does not mellow down or instead worsens, the doctor might prescribe certain medications including anti-inflammatory medicines, as well as muscle relaxants. Additionally, physical therapy, steroid injections may also be given to control inflammation and reduce pain.
For cases, where the problem persists for longer than 3 months, surgery may be needed to relieve symptoms.
Prevention of sciatica
The best treatment of sciatica is to avoid it on the whole, which is easy provided certain precautions are taken and some changes adopted in the everyday functioning.
Regular exercise: Strengthen your back and especially the core muscles – abdomen and lower back that define the posture and alignment of the body. Seek professional help to know which exercises are best suited per condition.
Maintain proper posture: Sitting posture highly affects the chances of sciatica; hence, it is best to be careful while sitting – keep your back straight, use a seat with well-cushioned back and arm rests. Also, maintain the normal curve of the back by keeping a rolled towel or a round cushion.
Use smart body mechanics: Do not over exert your back while lifting heavy things or lifting and twisting simultaneously. Also, if you have been standing for long, balance alternatively on one leg for some seconds and place one foot on the stool or a raised material from the surface.
That said, it is believed sciatica affects everyone at least once in their lifetime – some experience no symptoms, some mild while others experience severe symptoms that might need surgery in extreme cases. However, the rule of the thumb is to prevent the problem and if it occurs identify symptoms early and get targeted medical treatment to ensure no complications arise.