More often than not, pain in the lower back which extends to the back of the legs is identified as sciatica – a type of pain caused to the sciatic nerve due to injury or irritation. Located on either side of the body, each sciatic nerve is thick and consists of five nerve roots that are connected to the sacrum and lumbar spine. (On both sides of the body) they begin from the hips and end slightly below the knees, crossing the back of the legs and buttocks. Other nerves that run down the calves, feet, and toes connect to the sciatic nerves.
When there is an injury caused to one or more of these nerve roots, the patient will experience sciatica. Similarly, pinching, pressure, or inflammation of nerves in these areas can also cause pain for which some type of treatment is required in order to get relief. Symptoms of sciatica can be in the form of mild, moderate, or chronic pain in specific regions which include the lower back, buttocks, hips, and legs. Weakness and pricking around the feet can also indicate sciatic nerve injury or irritation.
Before we discuss the main symptoms of sciatica and appropriate treatment for the same, let’s take a look at who is more susceptible to sciatic nerve pain.
Causes of Sciatica
Like any pain in the body, sciatica can disrupt your day-to-day life and, more often than not, will persist until treated. Unfortunately, this condition is not uncommon among most age groups, although it is quite rare in children. Nevertheless, every adult is at risk of sciatica and therefore, should be made aware of the many different causes which include the following:
- Sitting for many hours a day. If you spend continuous hours in a sitting position every day, you are likely to suffer from lower back pain which correlates with sciatica.
- Heavy lifting. Whether your job demands it or otherwise, heavy lifting can cause low back pain or injury to the sciatic nerves.
- Aging. As we grow older, spinal disks and tissue begin to degenerate which can lead to compression, pinching, or injury to the sciatic nerves.
- Bad posture when working out. Regardless of what exercise you may be performing, if your posture is incorrect, injury to joints and nerves in the body is expected. This is especially true when an activity involves heavy lifting or using the back muscles.
- Injuries. Individuals who have suffered from a lower back injury are at high risk of developing sciatica in the future.
- Diabetes. A diabetic is more susceptible to nerve damage in general which includes symptoms of sciatica.
- Obesity. Carrying excess weight that your lower back muscles cannot support often leads to pain or strains which affect the sciatic nerve.
These are just a few causes of sciatica; if you are experiencing any type of pain related to the sciatic nerve, it is advisable to meet with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis.
Symptoms of Sciatica
Sciatica symptoms are commonly experienced in the lower back and radiate through the buttocks and thigh region. The pain may run down the side, front, or back of the leg, however, it will not affect both legs at the same time.
Let’s take a look at the common signs of sciatica and how patients can identify them:
- Pricking sensation in the legs, feet, or toes
- Any form of pain, numbness, or weakness in the buttocks, hips, lower back, legs, and feet
- Aggravated pain when moving the lower body
- Heaviness or restrictions felt when moving the affected leg
- Trouble controlling the bladder and bowels
- Increase or decrease in pain when posture or position is changed; eg: some patients may feel increased pain when lying flat down while others may get relief
- Fever accompanied by low back pain
- Inflammation and/or redness in the low back region
Treatment for Sciatica
In order to treat your sciatica and relieve pain, a chiropractor or physical therapist must identify the cause. Many types of treatments can provide temporary relief from pain, however, if the root cause goes untreated, sciatica will persist.
When an accurate diagnosis is made, your medical practitioner will formulate a unique treatment plan in accordance with your symptoms.
Non-Surgical Treatment for Sciatica
Although sciatic nerve pain can be quite severe, treatment rarely calls for a surgical procedure unless non-surgical methods fail.
Here are some of the most effective ways in which doctors treat sciatica:
- Physical Therapy: Depending on the symptoms and the cause of your sciatica, treatment may be in the form of low-intensity physical therapy. This typically includes mobility exercises, strength training, and stretching to relieve low back pain.
- Medication: Along with physical therapy, you may be advised to take a full course of medication. In cases where complete rest is required instead, patients may only be prescribed medication before any form of physical exercise is advised.
- Epidural Steroid Injections: This is typically a secondary option if medication and physical therapy do not relieve you of sciatica symptoms. Severe sciatica that has persisted for longer than 12 weeks without treatment may require epidural steroid injections which is a more targeted treatment for an underlying cause.
- Hot/Cold Application: For moderate sciatica nerve pain, applying cold and/or hot packs to the affected area can provide relief. Cold packs help to reduce inflammation and pain while hot packs relax the muscles and soothe the area. Along with cold/hot applications, doctors may advise rest and/or medication.
At MSK Therapy, we understand how sciatica can impact or disrupt your normal life, and aim to relieve patients of their symptoms by targeting the root cause of the nerve pain. Using therapies formulated upon your diagnosis, our expert medical professionals will provide safe and effective treatments for your sciatica.