What is sciatica?
Sciatica is not actually a disease but a symptom that something abnormal occurs. Different people use it to describe different conditions. For example, some patients use this term to describe any kind of pain that starts in the lumbar or lower back region and radiates down the leg. Other people use “sciatica” to describe the condition when a spinal disc herniates in the lumbar area, causing pressure on the nerve roots.
There is no cure for sciatica because it is more of a “disorder” rather than a disease. Still, sciatica pain treatment can help manage the condition so that suffering individuals can go about their day.
Sciatica usually occurs in the area near the root of an injured or compressed nerve and runs down the leg to the foot. Other symptoms associated with the nerve’s dysfunction (abnormality of function), such as muscle weakness, may also occur. In addition, the pain can worsen when the individual suffering from this disorder sits down. The pain is known to travel quickly along the sciatic nerve path and is typically described as “shooting pain.” This shooting pain can sometimes be relieved by specific stretches and exercises.
Depending on how it is defined, approximately 20% to 40% of people suffer from sciatica.
Sciatica risk factors
Unfortunately, some factors that increase the risk of developing sciatica are beyond your control. Still, you can make some lifestyle changes to decrease your chances of developing this condition. Risk factors for sciatica include the following:
- Age: This risk factor is beyond your control. The older you are, the greater your risk of sciatica. Changes in your spine that occur as you age, like bone spurs and herniated discs, are the most frequent cause of sciatica. Sciatica exercises and sciatica stretches to increase strength and flexibility may decrease the risk of early-onset degenerative changes.
- Obesity: Overweight individuals are at greater risk for sciatica. Maintaining a healthy weight can help protect your spine from additional stress. Extra pressure on the spine contributes to the changes that trigger sciatica.
- Occupation: There is no conclusive evidence to prove this. Still, if your job requires heavy lifting and carrying or twisting your back, you may be at increased risk for sciatica. Sciatica exercises to strengthen your muscles may be helpful.
- Prolonged sitting: Being sedentary most of the time increases your risk of developing sciatica. Performing sciatica stretches and exercises to break up periods of prolonged sitting may be helpful.
- Diabetes: This condition puts you at a higher risk of nerve damage leading to sciatica. People with diabetes may find sciatica stretches and sciatica exercises beneficial.
The following are some of the causes leading to sciatica:
- Spinal disc herniation: A herniated disc occurs when the nucleus pulposus, the gel-like inner substance of a spinal disc, protrudes through the annulus fibrosus, which is the hard, tire-shaped outer layer. The most common symptom is pain. Nevertheless, nerve compression and inflammation can cause other symptoms, including numbness, tingling, and/or weakness in the extremities. When a disc ruptures in the lumbar part of the spine, it can lead to sciatica.
- Spinal stenosis: The word “stenosis” means narrowing. Consequently, spinal stenosis refers to a narrowing of the spine. It occurs when the bones of your back, the vertebrae, compress the spinal cord or the nerves that branch out from it to the muscles. Spinal stenosis can affect any back region, but it happens most frequently in the lower (lumbar) spine. Lumbar spinal stenosis can cause sciatica to occur. Sciatica stretches may help to relieve this as well as sciatica exercises.
- Piriformis syndrome: This is a disorder of the nerves and muscles. It occurs when the piriformis muscle located near the joint of the hip in the buttocks presses on the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is thick and long, running along the side of or passing through the piriformis, down the back of the thigh and calf, and branching off into a network of smaller nerves, eventually ending in the feet. Spasms of the piriformis muscle can cause pressure on the sciatic nerve. In this case, gently done sciatica stretches and exercises can help to relieve this syndrome.
- Other conditions: Sciatica can also be caused by arthritis or bone spurs. Tumors can also cause compression of the nerve roots or the spinal cord. Traumatic injuries to the spine can lead to this condition. Sometimes pregnancy causes sciatica. Specific gentle sciatica exercises and stretches are occasionally recommended during pregnancy.
What triggers sciatica?
The following are the factors that can trigger sciatic pain:
- Spending too much time sitting
- Have excessive weight or obesity
- Wearing too tight, form-fitting clothes
- Wearing shoes that are not comfortable/cushioned or shoes on high heels
- Keeping heavy items in your back pocket (ex. wallet, phone)
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