Sciatica is one of the most common causes of chronic pain, with as many as 40% of people experiencing it at some point. It can range from a short-lived annoyance to a severe, debilitating disruption of everyday life.
The good news is that there are treatment options that can relieve and sometimes even prevent sciatica from becoming an issue.
Before we get to all that, let’s take a moment to learn a little bit more about sciatica. After all, knowledge is the first step to prevention!
What is Sciatica?
The term “sciatica” has its roots in ancient Greece, where it was first used to describe pain in the hips or thighs. Since then, we have learned that this condition can in fact cause pain throughout most of the lower half of the body.
Specifically, sciatica refers to pain that affects the sciatic nerves, which run from the lower back, through the buttocks, down the back of the legs and to the feet.
FACT: The sciatic nerves are the largest nerves in the body, about the width of a pinkie finger.
The pain is caused by the sciatic nerve becoming pinched, usually by a herniated disc, bones spurs, or on rare occasion, by the formation of tumors.
What are the Symptoms of Sciatica?
When sciatica crashes the party, it can announce itself with a variety of painful symptoms. You may experience just one symptom or several at a time:
- Throbbing pain in the lower back, hip or buttocks
- Leg or buttock pain made worse by long periods of sitting down
- Burning or tingling sensation in the leg
- Weakness or numbness in the affected leg or foot
- Shooting pain in the lower body, like an electric shock
Almost all symptoms of sciatica occur on or near the path of the sciatic nerves, and usually only effect one side of the body.
The severity of pain differs from person to person, but even mild cases run the risk of becoming worse, so it is a good idea to check with your doctor if you are experiencing any symptoms of sciatica.
What Causes Sciatica?
When it comes to how and why sciatica occurs, let’s just say, “it’s complicated.” Due to the large size of the sciatic nerve and the many ways the condition presents itself, a lot of factors are thought to increase the risk of developing sciatica.
The primary causes of sciatica – herniated discs and bone spurs – become more common with increasing age. As a result, the likelihood of developing sciatica increases as well.
Added pressure on the spine from excess weight commonly causes herniated discs and can result in the onset of sciatica.
Regularly sitting for long periods of time puts extra pressure on the sciatic nerve, increasing the risk of pinching it and causing sciatica. This risk is increased if your body is off balance due to poor posture or carrying items like a wallet in your back pocket.
Injury or Trauma
Severe injuries that result in slipped or ruptured discs can compress the sciatic nerve and lead to sciatica.
This is one of the less understood risk factors. Research has suggested that smoking may contribute to developing sciatica, while quitting smoking was shown to reduce the risk.
How Do I Treat Sciatica?
Luckily, for as many risk factors as there are for sciatica, there are also plenty of ways to treat it.
Many are simple, nonsurgical options designed to relieve pressure on the sciatic nerve.
- A few days of bed rest and relaxation can do the trick
- Physical therapy
- Stretches that focus on the lower back
- Mild exercise
- Applying a cold compress for a few days, then switching to hot
- Over-the-counter pain meds like aspirin or ibuprofen
Sometimes, surgery may be required to treat sciatica when more conservative options fail. They can include:
- Diskectomy – The removal of discs or bone spurs pinching the sciatic nerve.
- Laminectomy – The removal of spinal tissue that may be compressing the sciatic nerve.
- Foraminotomy – Enlarging the opening where the sciatic nerve exits the spinal column to relieve pressure.
- Facetectomy – Trimming or removing facet joints that are pinching the sciatic nerve.
- Radiofrequency ablation – Destroying the nerve endings with heat, stopping the nerve from sending pain signals to the brain.
- Spinal cord stimulation – An implanted device applies mild electric pulses to nerves, blocking pain signals before they reach the brain.
How Do I Prevent Sciatica?
There is no magic formula or miracle cure that guarantees you won’t get sciatica. But there are several strategies that can help you keep it at arm’s length.
- Regular Exercise – Focus particularly on strengthening your core.
- Lift with your legs – Keep your back straight and hold whatever you’re lifting close to your body.
- Maintain good sitting posture – Sit up straight while keeping your knees and hips level.
- Don’t sit for too long – Get up and move around throughout the day.
- Avoid or quit smoking – Smoking can accelerate disc degeneration.
Sciatica is a persistent nuisance, but don’t let it get the better of you. Know the facts, make the right moves, and leave sciatica in the dust!
Get Relief from Sciatica Pain at Twin Cities Pain Clinic
If you are experiencing any of the sciatica symptoms mentioned above, schedule an appointment with Twin Cities Pain Clinic today. Our providers are clinically trained experts in the treatment of chronic pain and can prescribe a customized care plan to help relieve your sciatica pain.