What You Should Know About Sciatica
Suffering from leg pain that radiates down your lower back? There can be many types and causes of pain in your lower body, and sciatica is one of them. Here’s everything you need to know.
The longest nerve in your body is the sciatic nerve, which originates from your lower back and runs along your buttocks and the back of each leg. Sciatica refers to pain radiating along the path of this sciatic nerve. Sciatica is not an uncommon condition, and the pain can be a source of abject distress.
A review article published in the British Journal of Anaesthesia mentions that the lifetime incidence of sciatica is approximately between 13 per cent and 40 per cent. So what are some signs you may have sciatica, and what can you do about it? Here are the answers.
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Some Common Signs of Sciatica
1. Mild to severe pain radiating from lower back, down the buttocks and back of the leg.
2. Weakness or numbness along the path of the sciatic nerve.
3. Pins and needles sensation in leg, feet or toes.
4. Pain that worsens with movement like twisting, bending, or coughing, according to the book Sciatica.
Some Causes of Sciatica
- Herniated Disc: Herniated disc in the lumbar spine (lower back) is usually the most common cause of sciatica. According to an article published in the journal The BMJ, in about 90 per cent of cases of sciatica, the cause is compression of nerve root because of a herniated disc.
- Spinal Stenosis: The narrowing of the spinal canal, called spinal stenosis, in the lower back puts pressure on nerves in the region, and can be a cause behind sciatica.
- Spondylolisthesis: When a vertebra slips forward and is out of alignment with the rest, it can pinch the nerve, leading to pain.
- Bone Spurs: Bone spurs caused by osteoarthritis can also irritate the sciatic nerve.
- Injury or Tumour: Injury or tumour in the lumbar spine region can also be a contributing factor.
Other factors can lead to sciatica-like symptoms, such as cauda equina syndrome, a rare and serious condition, needing immediate medical attention, which can be indicated by incontinence and sciatica-like pain. Tightness or spasming of the piriformis muscle in the buttocks can also impact the sciatic nerve, known as piriformis syndrome. The stress on the lower back during pregnancy can lead to sciatica or similar pain.
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What to Do
Consult a doctor for a proper treatment plan best suited for you. Mild cases of sciatica can go away with time with some self-care methods. The book Sciatica presents that most cases of sciatica resolve in less than 4 to 6 weeks with no long-term complications. Here are some self-care tips for sciatica that can help deal with the pain.
- Use ice packs (wrapped in a towel) during the first week of pain to reduce inflammation.
- Apply heat treatments (like heating pads wrapped in a towel) after the first week, when the pain has lessened, to increase blood flow.
- Improve flexibility and strength through movement like appropriate gentle stretching such as reclining pigeon pose, knee to opposite shoulder, and standing hamstring stretch. Make sure to not exert yourself in any way that can be detrimental to your condition.
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1. What is sciatica?
A: Sciatica refers to pain along the sciatic nerve, which runs from lower back to feet on both sides.
2. What are some signs of sciatica?
A: Pain, weakness, or numbness along the path of sciatic nerve, pins and needles sensation, and pain that worsens with movement are some common signs.
3. What are some common causes of sciatica?
A: Herniated disc in the lumbar spine (lower back), spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, bone spurs, and injury or tumour in the lumbar spine region are some common causes.
4. What are some self-care methods that can help?
A: Ice and heat packs (applied following proper measures), and appropriate gentle stretches like reclining pigeon pose, knee to opposite shoulder, and standing hamstring stretch can be beneficial. Please keep in mind that treatment depends on the severity and individual circumstances of the condition, and it is important to consult a doctor for a suitable treatment plan.