Have you been experiencing pain in your back, hip or outer side of the leg lately? You might have an issue with your sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in your body, running from your lower back and down into both legs. When in pain, the sciatic nerve condition is called sciatica.
The good news is that sciatica is usually treatable by a medical professional and is self-diagnosable. We’ll get into that more later as we seek to answer the question: What is sciatica?
What Causes Sciatica?
Sciatica is typically caused by pressure on the sciatic nerve, usually coming from a herniated disc, disc degeneration, spinal stenosis (narrowing) or a bone spur in the spine. This causes pain that starts in the lower (lumbar) spine, then radiates down the nerve, causing pain in the back of a leg. Sciatica typically only affects one side of the body.
Sciatica can happen suddenly after an injury, or it can take months to slowly develop. It can be short-lived (acute) or long-term (chronic). Regardless, sciatica is typically easy to identify, and can sometimes be treated at home.
How do I Know if I have Sciatica?
Sciatica pain is pain that radiates from your lower back into the back or side of your legs. It typically affects one side of the body, but can affect both. Sciatica pain can range from mild pain to sharp, severe pain. Sciatica might also cause feelings of numbness, tingling or weakness in your leg or foot.
There are several risk factors to consider as well. These things put you at a higher risk for developing sciatica:
- Age: People age 30 to 50 are more likely to develop sciatica
- Weight: Being overweight or pregnant puts added pressure on your spine
- Work: Jobs that require heavy lifting or prolonged sitting can add pressure to your spine
How do I Treat Sciatica?
Many people are able to remedy sciatica pain within a few weeks using over-the-counter solutions. Pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen sodium (Aleve) can help to relieve pain, but should not be used on a long-term basis.
Although sciatica can often be treated at home, it’s always a good idea to consult with your primary care doctor, who can help to rule out any other possible causes of your pain. Your doctor might recommend switching cold and hot packs on your lower back to help relieve pain.
There are also several sciatica stretches to relieve back pain that you can try at home. Finding stretches that relieve your specific pain can be a case of trial and error, so take stretches slowly and remember that not every stretch will help with your particular situation. Regardless, it is important to stay in motion when you have sciatica. It might sound counter-intuitive, but resting with sciatica will not help you to get better. Sitting or resting will ensure that the pressure stays on the same spot, whereas staying active might help to reduce the inflammation.
If you have tried these at home remedies and are still experiencing pain, check back with your doctor, who might prescribe you stronger pain killer or anti-inflammatory medications. Other treatments that might help include steroid injections, physical therapy, acupuncture and chiropractic care. If your pain lasts for three months or more, you and your doctor may consider surgery to help alleviate the pain.
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