Sciatica is the pain that goes upto the path of the sciatic nerve, which basically starts from your lower back through your buttocks and down to each leg as well. The sciatica pain mostly affects only one side of the body. This pain develops commonly when a herniated disk, bone spur on the spine or narrowing of the spine is putting pressure on a part of the sciatic nerve. Sciatica nerve compression leads to inflammation, pain and sometimes numbness in the affected leg.
The pain in sciatica varies from being severe to mild and most of the cases get treated with non-operative course of treatments, within a short period. And, people who have severe sciatica accompanied with leg weakness or bowel or bladder changes might require surgery to recover from this painful condition. Onlymyhealth editorial team spoke to Dr. Sabika Abidi, Consultant Physiotherapist (Orthopedics), Masina Hospital, Byculla E. about the symptoms, causes, treatment and prevention of sciatica pain.
Symptoms of sciatica pain
Pain that starts from your lower spine to the buttock and down the back of your leg is the main indication of sciatica. Although, sciatica might cause discomfort almost anywhere along the nerve pathway, but it particularly affects the path from your low back to your buttock and the back of your thigh and legs. The severity of pain is different in every patient and might also cause a burning sensation or excruciating pain in some people. At times, the pain can rise at any point and can feel like an electric shock. It can be worse when you cough or sneeze, and a for longer periods can also worsen the symptoms.
Mostly, only one side of the body gets affected in sciatica. In some cases, people also have numbness, tingling or muscle weakness in the affected leg as symptoms. You might have pain in one part of your leg and numbness in the other one. Mild sciatica usually goes away within some time. You should talk your doctor if self-care tips are not helping in reducing the symptoms or if the pain is lasting more than a week, is severe or becomes worse over time. If you experience these signs of sciatica pain, it is important to consult a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.
What causes sciatica?
Sciatica pain develops when the sciatic nerve is pinched or compressed, usually by a herniated disk in your spine or by an overgrowth of bone on your vertebrae. In very rare cases, the nerve might even get compressed by a tumor or damaged by a risk factor condition of diabetes. According to Dr. Sabika Abidi, the main risk factors of sciatica pain are:
Age related changes in the spine, such as herniated disks and bone spurs, is the most common risk factor of sciatica pain. The chances of you getting this condition increase as you grow older in age.
Sometimes, there might also be a job requirement for you to make movements including your back or picking and carrying heavy loads or driving a motor vehicle for long periods might also have an impact in triggering sciatica, but there is no proper evidence of this risk factor.
Diabetes is responsible for being a risk factor behind many conditions, including sciatica pain. This condition basically affects the way your body uses blood sugar, this increasing the risk of nerve damage.
Obesity leads to many diseases, including sciatica. By increasing the stress on your spine, being overweight can also play a major role in making changes to the spinal cord that triggers sciatica pain.
5. Sitting for longer periods
People who sit at one place for a long period of time or have a sedentary lifestyle are also at a higher risk of developing sciatica than people who are active and engage in different activities.
Also read: Exercise To Relieve Back Pain Instantly
Sciatica pain diagnosis and treatment
Firstly, a physical exam is done by the doctor to check your muscle strength and reflexes. This is conducted by observing the movement and stability of your affected leg and back. Pain that results from sciatica will mostly worsen during these activities and give the diagnosis. Many people have herniated disks or bone spurs that might show on X-rays and other imaging tests but be asymptomatic otherwise. So, the healthcare experts usually do not conduct the other tests unless your pain is severe, or persistent since a few weeks.
If your pain does not improve with self-care tips, your doctor might ask you to follow other treatments. Once your acute pain improves, you will be advised to go for physical therapy. Your physical therapist can help in creating a rehabilitation program to help you prevent any future injuries. This includes exercises for proper posture, strengthening the muscles supporting your back and improving your flexibility. Surgery is also an option that is mostly performed when the compressed nerve causes a lot of weakness, loss of bowel or bladder control, or when you have pain that is getting worsened over time and not responding to other therapies. Surgeons can remove the bone spur that might be putting pressure on the pinched nerve. The doctor might give injections and medications to reduce the symptoms such as pain and inflammation.
How to prevent sciatica pain?
It is always best to prevent a condition, instead of treating it. First comes prevention, self care tips and them you move on to medical treatment in such conditions of pain. However, it is not always possible to prevent sciatica, and the condition may be recurring too. So, here are 2 ways to prevent sciatica pain effectively:
1. Exercise regularly
To keep your back strong and pain free, it is important to exercise regularly and open up your core muscles, which are the muscles in your abdomen and lower back. These muscles are essential for proper posture and straight alignment. You can ask your doctor to suggest a set of exercises for your back. If you exercise daily, it might help in preventing sciatica.
2. Correct posture
Prefer sitting on a seat that has a good lower back support, armrests and base. You can even use a pillow or rolled towel at the back of your back to maintain its normal curve. Keep your knees and hips at an aligned level. And, if you stand for long periods, try resting atleast one foot on a stool from time to time. Therefore, your posture plays a major role in triggering back pain.
Also read: Home Remedies to Treat Back Pain Naturally
So, these were the symptoms, causes, treatment and preventive measures for sciatica pain by Dr. Sabika Abidi. Acupuncture therapies are also known to reduce back pain and not everyone who has sciatica needs medical care. You can even try cold packs, warm packs and stretching as a home remedy for sciatica pain. Sciatica can even lead to complications such as loss of feeling in the affected leg due to permanent nerve damage, therefore, it is best to receive timely diagnosis and treatment from an expert. In addition to physical therapy and exercise, committing to correct and ergonomically supported posture while sitting standing and walking is essential in treating and preventing sciatica. daily routines such as following ergonomically safe lifting techniques and using good sleep postures are also important to follow.
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