Sciatica Symptoms & What You Can Do

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Back Stretch

Sciatica is a painful condition in which the sciatic nerve, which originates in the lumbar spine, becomes inflamed, irritated or pinched. The sciatic nerve is the largest single nerve in humans, affecting the entire lower half of the body, from the lower back, down through the leg, to the bottom of the foot. Sciatica is often characterized by a pain that radiates down through the lower back, into the leg, and is sometimes expressed most intensely as a pain in the hip and/or knee.

Let’s take a look at the sciatica symptoms, and what you can do to feel better. Before we dive into the symptoms, however, we need to look at the causes.

Causes of Sciatica

Sciatica can be caused by a number of conditions or occurrences, including:

  • Disc herniation
  • Pinched nerves
  • Narrowing of the spinal canal
  • Disc degeneration or Degenerative Disc Disease
  • Disc slipping (usually two or more discs switching positions in alignment)
  • Lumbar Spinal Stenosis (a condition wherein the spinal canal is narrowed)
  • Bone fracture
  • Spine/pelvic injury or scar tissue
  • Tumors
  • Spondylolisthesis (wherein one vertebra shifts to overlap another vertebra)
  • Muscle inflammation
  • Internal bleeding
  • Pregnancy
  • Infection
  • Obesity
  • Piriformis Syndrome (wherein a muscle running through the buttocks compresses the sciatic nerve)
  • Trauma, such as a car accident, which affects the lumbar or gluteal regions
  • Weak abdominal muscles and/or thigh muscles, causing undue stress to the lower back

Sciatica Symptoms

Sciatica symptoms vary from person to person, and can be different based on the underlying cause of the condition. Many people feel temporary symptoms for a few hours to a few weeks, although others may suffer chronically.

Additionally, some symptoms develop slowly and quietly over time, so some patients do not even realize what is causing the pain until it becomes intense.

Some of sciatica symptoms include:

  • Pain is usually in one leg, possibly including the buttock, hamstring, knee, calf, ankle, and/or foot. Both legs may be affected, but most occurrences only affect one. Some of sciatica symptoms include:
  • Weakness of the knees and feet and difficulty bending the lower joints
  • Weak or abnormal reflexes in the legs
  • Numbness, feelings described as “pins and needles”, burning sensations in the buttock & leg, or throbbing/sharp pains in the hip, knee, or ankle
  • Increasing pain and difficulty trying to sit down or stand up
  • Pain that graduates in intensity the longer one stands still (walking or moving may temporarily decrease the pain somewhat)
  • Difficulty walking, bending over or lifting heavy objects

Diagnosing Sciatica

When diagnosing sciatica, doctors will perform a comprehensive exam involving several tests that check the patient’s spinal alignment, strength of knees and reflex/motion/extremity sensitivity. The doctor may use x-rays or other imaging tests to identify the cause of the patient’s condition, and to check for spinal disc abnormalities. Once the diagnosis is established, treatment can begin. While there is no “cure” for sciatica, there are many standard and alternative treatments to help ease the pain and accelerate healing.

Sciatica Treatment

Sciatica will, in most cases, eventually “heal” itself, but try these techniques to inspire your back to recuperate, and to prevent the pain from returning:

  • Bed rest and simple at-home pain treatments, such as ice packs or heating pads (heating pads, pre-stretching exercises and ice packs afterward, work best!) 
  • OTC NSAIDS; Prescription anti-inflammatory drugs, pain relievers and muscle relaxers, including cortisone injections and epidurals
  • Specialized laser treatments, like the ML830 Laser
  • Physical therapy, simple exercise or yoga
  • Acupuncture
  • Chiropractic alignment
  • Talking to your doctor or orthopaedic specialist about physical therapy (in many cases, it is covered by insurance), spinal decompression or surgical procedures to correct spinal conditions (usually only in cases of tumor removal or repair of fractured/injured vertebrae)
  • Stress relief techniques and/or psychological training (stress is often linked to worsening pain)
  • Avoiding heavy physical activity, such as heavy lifting, running or any motion that twists or “jerks” the spine. Instead, try light stretching. Ask your doctor for a set of recommended stretches you can perform at home.

Do you have sciatica? Have you discovered any useful means of alleviating your pain? Discuss how you manage your sciatica pain in our Community!

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