Sciatica

Help to relieve sciatic nerve pain symptoms

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  1. What is Sciatica?
  2. What Causes Sciatica?
  3. Help for Sciatica
  4. More Information on Sciatica

What is Sciatica?

Sciatica refers to the pain and discomfort caused by pressure on the sciatic nerve or nerve roots. This nerve is the longest nerve in the body which runs from the lower back and pelvis, through the hip and buttock area, down to the back of each leg, and controls many of the muscles in these areas.

When one of the nerve roots in the lower spine is irritated or compressed, the result is pain felt in the lower back, buttock region and/or parts of the leg and foot. This pain can range from an infrequent discomfort to a continuous, excruciating and debilitating pain accompanied by sensations of numbness or weakness in the lower limbs.

It is important to note that Sciatica is not a disorder, but rather a set of symptoms that may differ slightly depending on the cause, which nerve root is being compressed, and why. Sciatica is more common among people between the ages of 30 and 50 years, and is often the result of general wear and tear, rather than specific injury. While Sciatica can be excruciatingly painful, permanent nerve damage is very rare.

Symptoms of Sciatica?

Sciatica often causes a pain that radiates from your lower back, all the way through the buttock region to the back of your thigh and calf. It typically only affects one side of the body and may affect all the various areas along this nerve path, however, it frequently follows a descending pattern of pain starting from the lower back and traveling downwards. The pain may also vary between individuals and may be experienced in the following ways:

  • Numbing, burning or tingling sensations in the legs or toes
  • Extremely painful shooting pains that tend to worsen when walking, sitting, coughing, sneezing or after any physical activity.
  • Muscle weakness or poor co-ordination in the leg or foot
  • A constant pain on the one side of your buttock
  • Lower back pain present with severe leg pain

What Causes Sciatica?

Sciatica usually occurs when a nerve root in the lower spine is pinched or compressed. The most common cause for this is a herniated disk (slipped disk) in the lower back. This happens when the one of the disks that cushions the vertebrae slips out of place or ruptures and presses or puts pressure on a nerve. While this is the most common cause of Sciatica, other less common conditions can also result in pressure on the spinal nerves such as:

  • Spinal stenosis – a condition that causes a narrowing of the canal that holds the spinal cord and many nerve roots. This may cause pressure on the sciatic nerve.
  • Spondylolisthesis – a condition where one vertebra slips forward over another vertebra causing pressure on the sciatic nerve. This condition is often a result of degenerative disk disease.
  • Piriformis syndrome – this occurs when the sciatic nerve becomes trapped by the piriformis muscle in the upper thigh. When the muscle becomes tense or goes into spasm it puts pressure on the sciatic nerve.
  • Spinal tumors – Tumors in the spinal cord can cause pressure on the sciatica nerve or the nerve roots as they grow.
  • Trauma or injury – A bad fall or a car accident can cause damage to the sciatica nerve or the nerve roots or cause swelling that puts pressure on the nerve.
  • Osteoarthritis, osteoporosis or the general wear and tear of aging may cause sciatica.

Should I worry about Sciatica?

Mild Sciatica will usually go away by itself if given a little patience and rest. However, if you find that your symptoms change or worsen, or extend beyond six weeks, you should seek medical attention or if you experience any of the following:

  • Sciatica-like pain following an injury or accident
  • Any sudden pain or numbness in back or leg that is severe or unbearable
  • The or pain or weakness is getting increasingly worse after a week rather than better
  • Sciatica before the age of 20 or after the age of 55
  • The pain is accompanied by a fever, chills, or vomiting
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control or numbness in the genital region

Help for Sciatica

In most cases, Sciatica will disappear on its own with a little time and patience. Try keeping to your normal routine as much as possible, while avoiding pain triggers such as bending over to pick things up, or moving heavy things. In the meantime, explore a few of the following treatment options:

  • A cold ice pack (even a packet of frozen peas will do) wrapped in a towel and held on the painful area for approximately 15-20 minutes may help reduce inflammation and provide mild pain relief.
  • A hot pack or even regular hot baths will also help relax tight muscles that may be putting pressure on the sciatic nerve.
  • If your Sciatica is the result of a herniated disk (slipped disk), a physical therapist will probably play a vital role in your recovery. After a thorough assessment, they will develop and facilitate a treatment plan that may include exercises to relax and strengthen muscles, as well as improving flexibility and posture.
  • Over the counter pain relief medication or anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin or ibuprofen may be useful in providing mild relief. Ensure that you do not exceed the recommended dose as these medications still have serious side effects such as nausea, vomiting, stomach ulcers, and liver problems.
  • Natural products such as SciatiGon™ may also provide help with sciatic nerve comfort.
  • In very severe cases where Sciatica is causing symptoms such as weakness, incontinence of the bowel or bladder, or if the pain is worsening despite treatment, surgery may be performed to remove the herniated part of a disc.

More Information on Sciatica

  • Soft flat shoes that provide support and cushioning when you walk may help. Heels often cause jarring strain on the spine which may cause and prolongs sciatica.
  • Keep mobile and mildly active. Avoid sitting still for long periods of time as this is when muscles stiffen and the symptoms of Sciatica worsen.
  • Exercise regularly while emphasizing stretches that will help strengthen back muscles. If you find that you continuously feel worse after exercising, you may find that one or two exercises in your routine are incorrect and causing more damage than good. If this is the case, consult a physiotherapist or you doctor for the appropriate exercise techniques to best suit your back condition.
  • Sit comfortably and maintain a good posture. Adjusting your chair at work so that your knees are slightly higher than your hips, your arms are supported by the arm rests and you are sitting up close to the desk, will help to prevent back pain and stiffness.
  • Be active – physical activities such as walking or swimming will improve your condition, help you to feel healthier and boost your confidence
  • Pace yourself, take things slowly and try not to overexert yourself by doing too much. Take regular breaks and split daily activities and tasks into smaller, manageable steps.
  • Keep a pain diary or journal to record the various levels of pain experienced, to describe the pain and when it occurred. This enables you to gain a better understanding of your pain and you will have a detailed account to report to your doctor.