Sciatica pain is caused by irritation or compression to the sciatica nerve; the longest nerve in the human body that runs from the back of your pelvis, through your buttocks and all the way down both legs, ending at your feet. It is common for those with sciatica to have back pain, but more usually the pain will be located in the buttocks and the legs. It’s a shooting pain that can lead to temporary numbness of the leg, bottom and lower back.
Sciatica is usually caused by a herniated disk. This is where a disc develops a tear or crack and bulges into the spinal canal, causing irritation to the sciatic nerve. For a clear comparison, many compare the pain to the nerve pain that you experience if you have toothache.
Treatment for sciatica is often unneeded as the pain caused by the condition usually reduces or completely disappears within 4 – 6 weeks. However, for those with a more serious case of the condition, there are a variety of treatments available. These include:
It has been reported that up to 60% of those who have tried other unsuccessful therapies and then tried spinal manipulation have had the same degree of pain relief as patients who have had surgery. The respondents in the survey from the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics attended a chiropractor three times a week for four weeks and then continued weekly visits until they started to feel better.
The benefits of visiting a chiropractor is that it has the ability to improve mobility to the injured area by getting a response from the nervous system. It is also thought to reduce inflammation, promoting natural healing mechanisms. The great thing about this type of treatment is that it comes with very little risk and is most likely to help in some way.
Many who have sciatica will be forgiven for thinking that the best thing that you can do to treat the condition is to get as much rest as possible. In fact, the opposite is true and it is important to try to get as much physical activity as you can. This is one of the most natural ways you are able to combat the condition.
Whilst bed-rest can offer temporary comfort, in the long term it can worsen the symptoms of sciatica. This is because body parts won’t be regularly used which could lead to a weakening of the muscles.
Routine exercises such as walking or gentle stretching can go a long way in reducing the severity of the symptoms caused by sciatica. Dependent on the exercise you’re doing, it can also strengthen the muscles in your legs, buttocks and back, helping to prevent pain from the condition. The aim is to get moving and back to normal activities as soon as possible.
Most of the time you will experience sciatica pain when moving or jolting in a certain way but by the same measure, it can actually help to relieve the pain too. We know that sitting or standing for too long in a certain position can trigger pain and this can be amplified with those that have sciatica. Movement that tends to make the pain worse is crouching or shortening the spine.
However, lengthening the spine through either yoga, stretching or extending the limbs whilst laying down can go a long way in reducing pain. This is because it promotes good posture, whilst reducing inflammation and stiffness. Yoga has the ability to strengthen back muscles and put less pressure on the legs and buttocks.
A simple technique to do around the house is to lie on your back, and to bend your knees as close to your chest as possible and then stretch back out again. It is important to repeat this five times, have a break and follow the same routine for a further two sets of five.
For those who are less mobile, yoga and stretching might be a bit of a struggle and therefore may want to try either hot or cold compression packs. For example inexpensive heat pads can be purchased and it is also a handy relief for those who want to find comfort at work. Having a heat pad placed on the lower back for just 15 minutes, every two to three hours can be a really effective way in trying to offset the effects of sciatica.
Similarly, hot baths are a method that can work as the heat generated will loosen tight muscles and improve circulation. A very hot bath for twenty minutes, directly after being in a cooler environment can open up the pores of the body quicker and speed up the healing process.
In contrast, ice can also be a useful tool to relieving pain. A homemade ice pack can be created by simply wrapping a towel around a frozen pack of peas. Although ice or heat will do little in the way of combating the inner inflammation, it does offer a great temporary pain relief and a useful counter-irritant. If you can do this just as you wake and directly before bed then it should provide comfort for both day and night.
If the above methods haven’t worked then you may want to consider spinal injections. Injections are usually given for those who are referred by a GP to a specialist. The injection will also most likely be a spinal corticosteroid and a local anaesthetic.
The benefit of having this type of injection is that it will distribute strong anti-inflammatory medication directly to the inflamed area around the spine. In turn, this will lead to released pressure on the sciatic nerve and thus reduce pain.
Sciatica will rarely warrant the need to go to surgery as there are a variety of other healing options. However, surgery may be an option if the condition has a clear diagnosis of where the pain is coming from. For example, a slipped disc which has not responded well to other forms of treatment and where symptoms are getting progressively worse.
Your condition determines what type of surgery you have. Here are some of the most common surgical options:
Laminectomy: This is where a section of the vertebrae called the lamina is removed.
Fusion Surgery: Where a vertebrae has slipped out of place by using a metal cage between the vertebrae, supported with rods and screws.
Discectomy: This is where the part of the disc pressing on your nerve is removed.
A surgeon will talk through the risks and benefits of undertaking surgery. Many people have a positive result from surgery and potential complications are relatively minor.
If you’re suffering from pain due to sciatica then it is important to remember that there are a variety of options to overcome the condition in the short, medium and long term.