Sciatica is pain that involves the sciatic nerve. This large nerve runs from the lower back through the hips and buttocks and down the back of the legs. Sciatica pain radiates along this path, but it usually affects only one side of the body.
Sciatica is usually caused by irritation – usually a bone spur or ruptured disc – in the lumbar region of the spine. Other common causes of sciatica include lumbar spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease and spondylolisthesis. Pregnancy and overweight can cause back pain that makes sciatica worse.
While sciatica back pain can be severe, it rarely requires surgery. Most cases resolve within a few weeks of treatment. When conservative measures fail, however, surgery can relieve pressure on the nerve and provide sciatica relief.
– Sciatica Symptoms:
Radiating pain from the lower back to the buttock and down the leg to the calf is the hallmark of sciatica pain. It can vary from a mild ache to a strong, burning sensation. Sometimes, the pain can feel excruciating. Prolonged sitting can make the pain worse, and even a sneeze or cough can aggravate it.
For some people, sciatica can cause numbness or muscle weakness in the leg or foot. It can cause pain in one area and numbness in another area. Sudden or severe pain that cause numbness or weakness is usually a reason to see the doctor. A visit to the doctor’s office is also recommended if the pain causes a loss of bladder or bowel control.
– Sciatica Treatments:
Self-care measures like hot and cold packs or over-the-counter pain killers often relieve the pain associated with sciatica. When these treatments are ineffective, doctors may recommend medications, physical therapy, steroid injections or surgery.
Muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatories, narcotics, antidepressants and anti-convulsants are common medications for sciatica back pain. After the acute pain improves, doctors may recommend physical therapy to prevent recurring injuries. Steroid injections near the nerve root can also provide sciatica relief.
Surgery is usually reserved for people who have worsening pain, muscle weakness and bladder or bowel incontinence. In these cases, sciatica pain relief often depends on the removal of a bone spur or herniated disc.
– Sciatica Prevention:
Regular exercise, proper posture and good body mechanics can protect the back and may prevent sciatica. The condition is not always preventable, but improving back health in this way can lessen the risk.
Complementary medicine cannot prevent or cure sciatica, but some alternative therapies provide sciatica pain relief. Acupuncture and chiropractic are two examples. Acupuncturists use hair-thin needles to treat sciatica, and chiropractors use a form of therapy called spinal adjustment.
– Closing Thoughts:
Not everyone with sciatica needs medical care or alternative therapies. However, if the symptoms persist for several weeks and do not respond to self-care, people should make an appointment with the health care provider of their choice. This can be a physician, physical therapist, chiropractor or other healer. The provider can recommend treatments to strengthen the back and lessen the pain.