Have you been experiencing pain in your back, hip or outer side of the leg lately? This pain, may be accompanied by tingling and numbness in hands and feet. It also might indicate an issue with your sciatic nerve. The good news is that this condition is usually treatable by a medical professional and is self-diagnosable. We’ll get into that more later as we explore the answer to one question: what is sciatica?
The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in your body. It runs from your lower back and down into both legs. It also connects your spinal cord with your feet and leg muscles. When in pain, the sciatic nerve condition is called sciatica.
Sciatica is typically caused by pressure on the sciatic nerve. It usually comes 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. It then radiates down the nerve, causing pain that travels down the back of your leg. This is sometimes accompanied by tingling in your feet. Sciatica typically only affects one side of the body.
This condition can happen suddenly after an injury It can also take months to slowly develop. It can be short-lived (acute) or long-term (chronic). Regardless, it is typically easy to identify and can sometimes be treated at home.
How do I know if I have sciatica?
Sciatica pain 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. The pain can range from mild to a sharp, severe pain. You may also notice that the pain is worse when you’re sitting. You may experience tingling and numbness in the hands and feet, and it may be difficult to stand up or move your leg or foot.
These factors put you at a higher risk for developing sciatica:
- Age: People age 30 to 50 are more likely to develop this condition as they develop spinal changes such as herniated discs.
- Weight: Being overweight or pregnant puts added pressure and stress on your spine, possibly triggering sciatica.
- Work: Jobs that require heavy lifting or twisting or prolonged sitting can add pressure to your spine.
- Diabetes: Because diabetes affects how your body processes and uses blood sugar, it can increase your risk of nerve damage and your chances of developing sciatica.
While you may suspect that you have sciatica, your doctor can give her professional medical advice and confirm the diagnosis with an exam. During the exam, your doctor may observe you during a number of activities, including:
- lying on your back
- lifting your legs one at a time
- walking on your toes or heels
Such activities generally worsen sciatica pain.
How can I treat sciatica?
Many people are able to remedy the 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. Your doctor may also prescribe muscle relaxants. However, these should not be used for long periods.
Heat and ice therapy
You can also apply heat or ice to the affected area for 20 minutes at a time. Some people find alternating heat and ice throughout the day to be the most effective.