It’s no surprise that sciatica pain is one of the most searched terms on google when up to 40% of people will be afflicted with it in their lifetime. Unfortunately, since each case of sciatica is slightly different, sciatica treatment varies.
Understanding more about sciatica such as what causes it and how to treat it can speed up the recovery process and help you avoid a reoccurrence.
What is Sciatica?
It is important to know that “sciatica” itself is not a condition; it is a symptom.
Sciatica pain is nerve pain that originates from the lower part of the spine, around the hip region. The pain is caused by either pinching or irritation of one or more of the sciatic nerve roots, which can be found at the vertebrae of your lower back.
The sciatic nerves are the largest in the body and have a similar thickness to your pinkie finger. You have one on either side of the body that runs from your hip down your leg to your foot. In most cases, sciatica pain occurs on just one side of the body, but, on rare occasions, it can affect both sides.
Typical Sciatica Symptoms
The symptoms of sciatic nerve related pain are subject to large amounts of variation. Even so, the initial symptom is usually a pain in one or more regions such as the lower back, hip, or rear of the thigh. Sometimes, the pain can extend the entire length of the nerve, causing discomfort.
Other typical symptoms associated with sciatica include:
- Burning feelings down the leg
- Tingling sensations down the leg
- Shooting, electric-like pains
- Weakness in the leg and foot
- Difficulty moving the leg and foot
- Dull, continuous pain in the rear
Certain activities can cause the pain to flare up again, such as sudden movement or even sneezing.
What Triggers Sciatica Pain?
Anything that irritates the sciatic nerve roots will trigger sciatica pain. Even though any irritation can cause it, 90% of cases start because of a herniated disc. When a disc in the spine is herniated, it is pushed out of place, causing discomfort. If the herniation happens to one of the discs close to the sciatic nerve, the disc that has been pushed out can put pressure on the nerve. This pressure irritates the nerve and triggers the symptoms of sciatic nerve pain.
Other causes of sciatica can include:
Injury or spasm of the lower back muscles – Many types of lower back injuries can result in unnecessary pressure being placed on the sciatic nerve. Spasms, particularly of the piriformis muscle deep in the buttocks, can irritate the nerve as well.
- Spinal stenosis in the lower back – Stenosis is a condition that causes a narrowing on the nerve canals, which is where the sciatic nerve passes through.
- Spondylolisthesis – A condition where one of the vertebrae slips out of position.
- Disc degeneration – Over time the disks between the vertebrae can get worn down. A broken-down disc can impinge on the root nerves and trigger sciatica pain.
- Pregnancy – Although it is one of the less common causes of back pain in pregnancy, sciatica can occur when the fetus and uterus grow large enough to put pressure on the sciatic nerve.
Sciatica Treatment Options
Often, sciatica pain can go away by itself within a few days, but there are cases where it becomes chronic and will need treatment.
The first stage of treatment is to rest the area for a day or two to give any inflammation or muscle spasms a chance to subside. If the pain is still there after a couple of days, you will want to get the muscles moving again.
Typically, stretching will be the primary method of moving the area, generating blood flow, and easing the pain. Regular stretching of lower back muscles, calves, glutes, hamstrings, and the surrounding muscles should be the focus.
Medication and Steroid Injections
During recovery, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen can be taken. Acetaminophen can also be taken for sciatica pain relief. For individuals with especially intense or prolonged episodes of pain, steroid injections are an option.
A good chiropractor can combine deep tissue massage, stretching, and spinal adjustments to gently treat the causes of sciatica. Chiropractors are experts in treating back sciatica and identifying the causes of it.
Surgery is a last resort and only for the most severe cases of sciatica. This option is typically only considered in cases with a completely herniated disc or rupture. Surgery should always be the final option and only taken if the pain becomes unbearable and impacts your normal daily movements and quality of life.
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