We often hear the term sciatica but most of us tend not to know what it actually means. Perhaps you’ve experienced some pain after a workout, decided to google what it might be, and it led you to sciatica. Perhaps you’ve actually gone to the doctor and they told you that you have sciatica but did not elaborate further. Maybe someone in your family has been diagnosed with sciatica and you want to understand it better. Regardless of your reasons, keep on reading to learn more about this condition.
What is sciatica?
First of all, you need to know that our bodies have a sciatic nerve that begins at the spinal cord, goes through the hips and buttocks, and branches into each leg. This is the longest nerve of the body as well as one of the most important ones, as it directly affects our ability to feel and control our legs. We usually experience sciatica if this nerve is irritated or compressed. It’s important to note that sciatica is actually a symptom of some underlying injury to the sciatic nerve or the area that affects the nerve, such as the bones in the back and neck.
Sciatica typically manifests itself in the form of moderate to severe pain in the back, buttocks, and legs. The pain can also be a mild ache but it can feel like an electric shock as well. Tingling, numbness, and weakness in these areas are also possible. It affects only one side of the body.
Sciatica can make sitting or standing unbearable. Seeing as how the effects of the pain can lead to a sedentary lifestyle, increased stress, and limited movement, it’s not unusual that individuals experience prominent health problems and find it hard to lead a fulfilled life.
What are the signs of sciatica?
Sciatica comes with a very district type of pain. If you’re wondering whether you have it, you will be experiencing pain that goes from your lower back through your bottom and into your lower limbs, potentially all the way down to your toes. It can worsen when you sneeze or cough as well as sit for a prolonged period of time.
You can experience two types of sciatica pain, acute and chronic. Acute will last for less than eight weeks, while chronic will last longer than that.
Seeing as how sciatica is actually a result of an injury or damage to the nerve, you can expect other kinds of pain as well. Other things to look out for include pain that gets worse with movement, a sensation of pins and needles in your feet, and numbness, weakness, or complete loss of feeling in your legs. Furthermore, the inability to control your bowels or bladder can also be a rare symptom that requires immediate medical attention. Additionally, fever and back pain, swelling and redness, blood in your pee, and serious pain are all reasons to go to the doctor straight away.
Something that should be mentioned as well is that you are probably not dealing with sciatica if your only symptom is back pain.
What causes sciatica?
Several spine conditions can cause sciatica as well as various injuries and tumors.
For instance, a herniated disk can result in sciatica as the substance inside can compress the sciatic nerve. This then leads to lower limb pain and numbness. Research estimates that one to five percent of people worldwide will experience back pain at some point in their lives due to a slipped disk.
Lumbar spinal stenosis, also known simply as spinal stenosis, can lead to sciatica as well. This condition is characterized by a narrowing of the lower spinal canal, which puts pressure on the spinal cord as well as the sciatic nerve roots.
Spondylolisthesis affects the lower vertebrae by causing them to slip forward onto the bones directly beneath. This process can pinch the nerves that make up the sciatic nerve and lead to sciatica.
Piriformis syndrome can also cause sciatica as this rare disorder means that the piriformis muscle involuntary tightens or contracts and puts pressure on the sciatic nerve. This syndrome can worsen after long periods of sitting, falls, or car crashes.
What are the risk factors for sciatica?
If you’re worried about developing sciatica, you should also familiarize yourself with the risk factors. For example, your age will play a role here. It’s only normal for parts of your body to wear out or break down as you get older. Then, your job can also put a strain on your back, so be wary of work that involves lifting heavy objects, twisting your back, driving for an extended period, and so on. Obesity, diabetes, and smoking all might have a part in developing sciatica.
How is sciatica diagnosed?
If you’ve experienced any of the aforementioned symptoms and believe that you belong to a group that is at risk of developing sciatica, you should visit your doctor for a professional opinion. To get a diagnosis, your doctor will take a look at your medical history seeing as how sciatica is a symptom that is not the same for everyone. Any recent injuries, what kind of pain you’re experiencing, what’s making it worse, and when it started will all be very important in determining whether you actually have sciatica.
You will then go through a physical exam where the doctor can test your reflexes and strength and nerve testing to determine where your pain is coming from. A spinal X-ray, MRI, and CT scans are all used to provide a view of the sciatic nerve damage.
How can sciatica be treated?
If you happen to have sciatica, your doctor will recommend the best option to treat your pain. It’s also advised to try and carry on with your daily activities as much as you can. If you avoid activity and keep lying in bed, you will likely worsen your condition.
One commonly prescribed treatment is using cold and hot packs on the affected area. You should first use ice to reduce the swelling and then switch to heat after a few days. Over-the-counter meds like ibuprofen and aspirin are also used to help with pain, swelling, and inflammation but prescription medication is sometimes necessary as well.
Then, gentle stretching and regular exercise are often recommended but physical therapy might be better as professionals will ensure you are not exerting your body. Opting for personalized sciatica treatment sessions can help you improve movement in your lower back and speed up recovery.
In certain cases, surgery might be needed.
Can sciatica be prevented?
Finally, let’s talk about how sciatica can be prevented. If you are not experiencing any symptoms and want to ensure it stays that way, you should keep the following steps in mind.
First of all, mind your posture. You need ergonomic chairs that offer proper support to your back. Then, place your feet on the floor and use the armrests.
Exercising often is also of the essence. If you work on strengthening your back muscles and your stomach muscles, your core will be strong enough and you will be able to maintain a strong back.
Lastly, the way you move is important too. If you need to lift heavy objects, do it properly, by keeping your back straight and bending at your knees.
While there are certain things that are out of your control, such as accidental falls and degenerative disc disease, make sure you take all precautions to prevent sciatica. However, even if you end up developing it, remember that it’s not the end of the world and that it can be treated.