The sciatic nerve is the longest single nerve in the body. It runs from the spinal cord through the buttocks where it branches off to both legs and ends below each knee. When inflammation or irritation of this nerve is triggered, it causes a painful condition known as sciatica. Because the sciatic nerve controls feeling in the legs, this kind of pain can create additional, long-term problems. Sciatica pain occurs in up to 10% of the population, most often affecting patients between the ages of 25 and 45.
Causes of sciatica pain
The most common cause of sciatica pain is a slipped or herniated disc that puts pressure on the sciatic nerve. Chronic lower back pain can also be linked to this kind of pain. A pinched nerve will also create pain radiating down the leg like sciatica.
These causes of sciatica can be triggered by a number of different physiological events. A fall or injury that affects the spine and presses on the nerve can be one possible cause. However, most of the time a specific injury is not determined and the sciatica is caused by the irritation or pinching of the nerve due to the body’s natural aging effects or wear and tear of the spine.
Symptoms of sciatica pain
The tell-tale symptoms of sciatica include pain in the lower back, buttocks, and down the legs. It is typically a shooting, burning, or throbbing pain. It can also cause tingling and numbness in the legs and feet. Pain will usually increase when patients are sitting for a long period of time. However, it is important to note that increased pain over time may indicate a problem with the nerve itself that is not caused by something like a herniated disc or back pain.
If you are experiencing these symptoms, it may be helpful to seek the advice of a doctor or pain specialist who can suggest a variety of treatments to stop or alleviate the pain. Your individual treatment will depend on the severity of your pain and the specific cause.
Common sciatica pain treatments
The goal with sciatica treatment is to decrease pain and increase mobility. There are multiple ways to achieve this objective some of which are more invasive or may require treatment with drugs to reduce the inflammation and irritation of the sciatic nerve. Some patients find relief with better exercise and nutrition. Therapeutic massage can also help manage the pain.
Additional treatments include:
- Physical therapy
- Epidural steroid injections
- Chiropractic treatment
The right treatment for you may depend on a number of factors so before deciding which to pursue, it is highly recommended that you consult your doctor for an official diagnosis.
Acupuncture is a technique developed over centuries of Chinese medicine. Trained acupuncturists insert small needles in the skin at various trigger points. These trigger points are supposed access the body’s natural energy flow, also called chi. Acupuncture is also often coupled with relaxation and meditation techniques that allow the treatment to incorporate the mind, body, and spirit. Individuals with symptoms of sciatica have experienced relief with acupuncture treatments. Acupuncture is considered non-invasive and has minimal risks for patients.
A trained physical therapist can help patients dealing with the effects of sciatica with exercises design to relieve the pain. A therapist will help you work through exercises that strengthen the muscles of the lower back, help you stretch the area, and alleviate some of the pressure on the sciatic nerve. Typically physical therapy has a component of at-home exercises as well to keep up the level of recovery. Your length of treatment will often depend on the cause of your sciatica pain and how well you keep up with the exercises between physical therapy visits.
Another alternative treatment for sciatica pain may be yoga. This meditative practice involves a series of specific stretching exercises designed not only to increase your body’s flexibility but also calm your energy and promote relaxation. The physical exercise coupled with the mindfulness of yoga can help many patients better handle the effects of conditions such as sciatica. However, if yoga causes more pain than it alleviates you may want to speak with your doctor about different treatment options.
Epidural steroid injections
For more disruptive sciatica pain, some patients consider an epidural steroid injection. This treatment is designed to inject medication into the affected area of the body to reduce inflammation and help restore the body’s natural balance. However, most experts currently believe this is just a short-term fix and that patients will need to seek longer-term treatments along with comprehensive lifestyle changes to find the most relief from sciatica pain.
A chiropractor is a specialized doctor trained to manipulate the human body to realign the musculoskeletal system and provide relief from a variety of conditions. Chiropractic care is intended to help the body through its own natural healing process and does not involve any drugs. The manipulation of the spine can free its movements and relieve pressure on the sciatic nerve alleviating the painful effects of the condition.
Sciatica is often made worse by remaining stationary so most specialists will encourage you to move to alleviate the pain and strengthen the muscles around the area. In the case of a herniated or slipped disc, you may need additional specialized treatments that will address those specific conditions. The hope is that the pressure will then be relieved on the sciatic nerve and the pain will be reduced or eliminated.
Because of the intense pain caused by sciatica, many patients will be treated with a comprehensive treatment plan that encourages medical interventions alongside lifestyle changes. Especially at the onset of the pain, seeking treatments that are less invasive may prove to have better long-term effects than drugs or surgical interventions. Talk with your pain specialist to determine which treatments are best for your specific case and symptoms.
What treatments have you used to manage your sciatica pain?
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