The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body, which runs from the lower back to the back of the leg. It controls feeling sensors from the sole of the foot up to the thigh. The sciatic nerve also controls muscles in the back of the thighs and lower legs. When the sciatic nerve is irritated or has excess pressure placed on it, the resulting pain is a spinal cord injury referred to as Sciatica. This is a common ailment in the United States with an estimate of three million cases annually.
Causes of Sciatica
Sciatica is typically caused by a herniated or slipped disc that pinches the sciatic nerve. Spinal discs are rubber-like cushions that absorb the shocks of daily wear to protect the spine. Herniated discs occur when spinal discs become weak or tear because of general wear, heavy lifting, twisting, excessive weight, and/or a sedentary lifestyle. Herniated discs usually occur over time, rather than because of a one-time incident.
While pregnancy alone does not result in Sciatica, a woman that may have been in danger of developing Sciatica because of pre-pregnancy activities, such as a job that required extensive lifting, may develop Sciatica during pregnancy. In most cases, however, a woman is more likely to have Sciatica-like symptoms, rather than Sciatica, which should be addressed by a medical professional.
Everyday use of the body may also lead to the spinal canal narrowing, which is referred to as spinal stenosis. This can irritate the sciatic nerve as a result of the pressure the spine narrowing puts on it, leading to Sciatica. This is most commonly seen in elderly people.
Muscle inflammation, fractures, infections, and other conditions that result in the sciatic nerve being compressed or aggravated can also trigger Sciatica-like symptoms.
The symptoms that exist with Sciatica are generally dependent on where the sciatic nerve is pinched. Lower back pain that travels through the hip and buttock and extends down one leg is the most common symptom of Sciatica.
When suffering from Sciatica a patient’s leg may alternate between feeling tingles, shooting pain, numbness, and muscle weakness. The pain can also be exacerbated by sudden movements, such as sneezing or coughing, and sitting. Sciatica symptoms often appear without warning and may last as long as weeks at a time.
Treatment for Sciatica
It is important for a person to seek medical attention when they believe they are suffering from Sciatica. This will ensure that the condition is properly diagnosed. Sciatica is most often treated conservatively, but the condition may be serious enough to necessitate surgery.
There are at-home remedies that can help reduce the pain caused by Sciatica. Applying ice packs and/or heating pads to the affected area may temporarily relieve pain associated with Sciatica. Anti-inflammatory over-the-counter pain medication may also temporarily relieve Sciatica pain.
Prolonged sitting or stationary standing may exacerbate pain from Sciatica. When suffering from the condition, it is important to remain active, which can reduce pain and inflammation. Yoga, walking, and other exercises that focus on gentle stretching can ease pain caused by Sciatica. Before beginning any exercise regime, it is best to seek medical advice.
Sciatica may also be treated with steroid injections, administered by a medical professional, to reduce inflammation. In some cases, when Sciatica is caused by herniated discs or spinal stenosis, surgery may be an option or necessary.