Sciatic Nerve Pain: Overview
If you feel aching, burning or tingling that runs down your back, and possibly into your buttocks or legs, you may be suffering from sciatic nerve pain. The condition, also known as Sciatica, is an inflammation of the sciatic nerve, the longest in your body.
Sciatica is a symptom not a condition, which means that treatment depends on identifying the root cause. It should be noted that the medical community is trying to do away with the term sciatica altogether, and switch to calling it lumbar radiculopathy since the pain that goes down the back of the leg can be caused by other things then just the sciatic nerve. For the purposes of this article, however, we will continue to refer to this condition as sciatica.
Sciatic Nerve Pain: Causes
Sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve is compressed. There are many reasons why this can occur, although the most common is lumbar disc herniation which is when a disc directly pressing on the nerve.
Aside from a slipped disc, other causes of sciatica include irritation of the nerve from adjacent bone, tumors, muscle, internal bleeding, infections, degenerative arthritis, injury, and other causes. Piriformis syndrome is a condition that causes the pirformis muscle, which is adjacent to the spine, to go into spasms, and this can press on the sciatic nerve. Spondylolisthesis is a degenerative bone disease can cause sciatica. Sometimes sciatica can occur because of irritation of the sciatic nerve that can happen as the uterus grows during pregnancy.
Sciatic Nerve Pain: Symptoms
Sciatic nerve pain is characterized by pain that radiates from your lower spine to your buttock and down the back of your legs. The sciatic nerve begins in the lower back and runs down the buttocks and into the legs. You may feel the discomfort, aching, burning or tingling anywhere along the sciatic nerve and its branches. The pain may be worse when you cough or sneeze and sitting down for long periods of time may aggravate it.
Sciatic Nerve Pain: Diagnostic Tests
To diagnose sciatica, your doctor will likely do a physical exam and ask you a series of questions about your symptoms, severity, duration and others. Your physical will likely include a series of muscle tests, like walking on the tips of your toes, or lifting your legs while lying on your back. The pain of sciatica generally becomes worse during these exercises.
In order to diagnose the root cause of sciatic nerve pain, your doctor may recommend imaging tests to see what is compressing the nerve. These might include:
- MRI tests: This is widely considered the most sensitive for diagnosing sciatic nerve pain.
- Spinal X-ray: X-rays are used to determine if there are tumors present or if there is dynamic instability of bones causing nerve entrapment. They do not, as it is commonly believed, show if there is a slipped disc.
- CT Scan: This is used to image your bones to see the cause of the pain. A CT scan can’t see your nerves but by the shape of your bones and their position a doctor can make assumptions on the state of your nerves to help with proper diagnosis.
Sciatic Nerve Pain: Treatment Options
If your condition is mild, it may go away with some rest, patience and self-care. There are a number of home remedies for sciatica such as stretching, exercise, alternating hot and cold packs, and use of over-the-counter pain medications.
If your pain lasts longer than a week and doesn’t seem to be getting any better, then it’s worth making an appointment with your doctor. You should also make an appointment if you have a sudden, severe pain in your lower back or legs; numbness or muscle weakness in your leg; or if you are having trouble controlling your bowels or bladder.
Your doctor may recommend having some physical therapy, especially if the cause is slipped disk. Physio can be an excellent way to strengthen your muscles, align your body, and improve your posture and flexibility to help avoid future injury.
If these home remedies and physio are not proving effective, he or she may prescribe more aggressive treatments, such as prescription pain medications or corticosteroid injections to reduce the inflammation. Surgery is also an option, although because of the risks and recovery time, it is recommended only if other treatments have proved unsuccessful.
There are a number of natural remedies that have proven effective to help control and lessen the pain of sciatica. Acupuncture is an effective pain management tool, as is massage. Chiropractic can also help, though no one actually knows exactly why. It is believed it may help increase the mobility of your spine, and loosen whatever is pinching on the nerve. Hypnosis is a tool for deep relaxation and help your mind learn the tools for coping with or easing pain.
Sciatic Nerve Pain: Prevention
Keeping good posture and your body fit and healthy is the best way to prevent sciatic nerve pain. Be careful how you sit in your chair, especially if you work at a desk all day, and if possible, choose an ergonomically designed chair. Make sure to get up and stretch as often as you can. Sciatic nerve pain can be caused by a slipped disk, so be careful to keep a straight back when lifting heavy objects and bend at the knees. Yoga is an excellent form of exercise that can help prevent sciatica by allowing you to build core strength and good flexibility.
Sciatic Nerve Pain: Conclusion
Sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve is compressed. There are many reasons why this can occur. Natural and home remedies are an effective first line of treatment. Yoga is an excellent form of exercise and preventative tool for this condition.