Sciatic pain is a common symptom shared by many people. Sciatica is a term for pain that radiates down the leg along the path of the sciatic nerve. Sciatica is always caused by inflammation around the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve extends from the lower back, through the pelvis, and down each leg. Usually, sciatica affects only one side of the body.
Sciatica is not a specific diagnosis but a symptom of what is happening to the patient. The sciatic nerve is the longest and widest nerve in your body. Injuries or pressure on the sciatic nerve produces pain in the lower back that spreads to the hip, buttocks, and down the leg.
The pain can vary widely from person to person. The pain can be perceived as sharp and may, at times, be accompanied with burning, stabbing sensations. At times the pain may be felt as numbness, tingling, and or weakness. It can be more painful when you cough or sneeze. Prolonged sitting can often aggravate the symptoms. All these symptoms are included in the label sciatica.
The first step in diagnosing and finding the cause of the sciatica symptoms is an x-ray of the lower spine. The x-ray will help establish if an issue is related to an inappropriate movement of the bones or their alignment. In addition to x-rays, a MRI helps illustrate the skeletal system and softer spinal structures to help diagnose issues causing sciatica.
Sciatica most often occurs when a herniated disk, bone spur on the spine compresses part of the nerve. Compression of the sciatic nerve can also be caused by a narrowing of the spine called spinal stenosis or Spondylolisthesis when one of the vertebrae slips out of place.
Even though the pain accompanying sciatica can be severe, many times, it can be resolved with non-operative treatments in a few weeks. Patients who suffer from severe sciatica that’s associated with considerable leg weakness or bladder or bowel changes might be candidates for surgery.
Sciatica Is Not Uncommon
Inflammation of the sciatic nerve is very common. In the U.S., it is estimated that it affects more than 3 million people each year.
When Should You See A Doctor
Mild sciatica often goes away over time. See a physician if self-care treatments don’t ease your symptoms or if the pain persists more than a week or becomes increasingly worse. Seek immediate medical help if:
- You have sudden and severe pain in your low back or leg accompanied with numbness or muscle weakness in your leg.
- The pain is the result of a forceful injury, such as a traffic accident.
- You suddenly can’t control your bowels or bladder.
- Risk factors for sciatica include:
- Changes in the spine due to age, such as bone spurs and herniated disks, are the most common causes of sciatica.
- Obesity increases the stress on your spine and can contribute to spinal changes that can cause sciatica.
- People who sit for lengthy periods or lead a sedentary lifestyle are more likely to develop sciatica than more active people.
- If you have a job that requires you to carry heavy loads, twist your back, or drive a vehicle for long periods, you might start to feel the symptoms of sciatica, but there’s no definite evidence of this link.
- Diabetes which, affects the way the body utilizes blood sugar, increases the risk of nerve damage.
- Sciatica Treatments
Treatment for sciatica depends on the severity of the nerve’s complications. Self-care may include:
- Using ice packs on the affected areas to decrease swelling and ease the pain and inflammation.
Stretches that a professional has recommended can increase elasticity and improve overall physical function.
- A chiropractic adjustment of the spine may also ease the pain.
- Over the counter medications such as Ibuprofen, Naproxen, Tylenol Anacin can lessen the pain and reduce inflammation.
- If the pain persists beyond 6 – 12 weeks, an epidural steroid injection may be recommended to reduce high levels of pain.
Patients frequently self-diagnose problems associated with the sciatic nerve. Sciatic pain is treatable by an orthopaedic physician, and the symptoms can diminish in a few months. If the pain continues, an operation can be an option. The surgery would depend on the specific diagnosis and the extent of the damage.
It’s not always easy to prevent sciatica, and it may recur. The following can help to protect your back:
- Exercise on a regular basis, it will help keep your back strong and focus on your core muscles. Your core muscles are the muscles in your abdomen and lower back that are essential for proper posture and alignment.
- Ask your physician to recommend specific activities.
- Make sure to maintain proper posture when you sit. Select a chair with good lower back support, armrests, and a swivel base. It helps to place a pillow or rolled towel in the small of your back to maintain its normal curve.
- Try to keep your knees and hips level.
If you have to stand for long periods, rest one foot on a stool or small box from time to time. When you have to lift something heavy, let your lower body do the work. Make sure to keep your back straight and bend only at the knees.
Orthopaedic Associates of St. Augustine’s team of highly-trained experts are experienced in treating Sciatica. Our goal is to ease each patient’s suffering and improve the quality of their life. Our physicians and physical therapy team work together to create a treatment plan for you.
If you or someone you know is suffering from pain associated with Sciatica, please call us at 904-825-0540 to schedule a consultation with one of our orthopaedic experts.