Sciatica is a term that’s used to describe pain in the lower extremities of the body such as the lower back and the legs. In short, sciatica is a term for leg pain. Sciatica is not only described as pain in the lower extremities, but sometimes, it’s sensation can be a weakness, tingling, and even numbness. The pain originates from the lower back and travels through the buttocks and goes further down into the back of each leg via the sciatic nerve which is the largest nerve in the human body. The sciatic nerve starts from the lower spine then goes deep through the buttocks and into the back of the thighs. It then goes all the way down to the foot. The main role of the sciatic nerve is to connect the spinal cord to the muscles of the legs and the feet.
Causes of Sciatica
There are many possible causes of sciatica, some more common than others. Lower back problems are common causes of pain radiating along the sciatic nerve. Here are the most common causes of sciatica:
- The most common cause of sciatica is when the spinal nerve located in the lower back is compressed. When the spinal nerve is compressed, it becomes irritated thus causing pain.
- Another common cause of sciatica is Lumbar Disc Herniation. When a lumbar disc herniation directly presses on the sciatic nerve, it can either cause irritation or inflammation of the sciatic nerve. This is known as “radiculopathy”.
- Irritation from a nearby bone or muscle may also cause irritation of the sciatic nerve.
- Infections and injuries can also be a cause of sciatic nerve irritation.
- Sciatic nerve irritation can also occur during pregnancy.
Risk Factors for Sciatica
Sciatica has the following risk factors:
Sciatica can cause pain, as well as, numbness, a burning sensation, and tingling that starts from the lower portion of the back and travels to the buttocks down to the back of the thighs and legs, Because of this, patients may experience the following:
a) Lower back pain
b) Hip pain
c) Buttock pain
d) Thigh pain
e) Leg pain
There are times when sciatica can be so severe that it makes it difficult to walk. The pain caused by sciatica can make it hard for someone to bend their waists. Sciatic pain may be relieved by lying down.
- When someone who experiences sciatica gets medical attention, the first thing that healthcare professionals will do is to diagnose the patient. The diagnostic procedures for sciatica are often started with a medical history. This is done by asking the patient a series of questions in order to know the details of the pain the patient is experiencing.
Here are some of the questions that a spine specialist may ask:
- What are the symptoms you’ve experienced so far?
- What remedies have you already tried?
- When did you first felt the nerve pain?
- Where can you feel the pain?
- Is the pain on both legs or one leg only?
- Does the pain stop on your knees?
- How do you rate the pain from 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest?
- Do you feel numbness, weakness, or tingling as well?
- What are some of the activities you did before experiencing the pain?
- Does the pain increase when you walk uphill or downhill?
- What are things you noticed that reduces the pain? What are things that make the pain worse?
- A physical exam is also a diagnostic procedure performed for sciatica patients. Specialists will ask you to do some basic movements and observe your physical condition. They will also feel your spine to check its alignment and curve.
The doctor will also perform a neurological exam in order to test your muscle strength, as well as your reflexes and other changes in your nerves.
- For doctors to identify the cause of your sciatica, they will conduct a couple of imaging tests such as:
- CT Scan
These 4 types of diagnostic procedures will enable your doctor to see the complete picture of your sciatic nerve pain. With the information your doctor acquired from these diagnoses, they will most likely be able to identify the cause of your sciatica and come up with the best possible treatment.
- Non-Surgical Treatments
The aim of non-surgical sciatica treatments is to relieve the pain felt due to a compressed or irritated nerve root. But for the pain that’s really severe or doesn’t go away, surgery is the best treatment to relieve sciatic nerve pain.
Here are some of the non-surgical treatments for sciatica:
- Pain Medication
- Heat and Ice
- Steroid Injections
- Alternative Treatments
- Massage Therapy
Read more: Sciatica Treatment
Stretches and Exercises to Get Rid of Sciatica
The pain caused by sciatica can affect your day-to-day life. Which is why treating sciatica is important. One of the treatments for sciatica is exercise.
When doing pain relief exercises, it’s important to remember to stay in your comfort zone. Don’t overexert yourself on the exercises to avoid worsening the pain.
Before exercising, you need to warm up first. Start by walking in place or climbing up and down the stairs slowly. Do your warm-ups a few minutes before you do the stretching exercises.
- Standing Piriformis Stretch
- Start with a standing position
- Place the leg you feel pain at over the other’s knee to form a number 4 shape
- Then lower down your hips at around a 45-degree angle slowly by bending the standing knee
- Lean your body forward
- Slowly extend your arms and make it parallel to the ground
- Make sure your spine is straight at all times
- Hold this position for 30 seconds to a minute then switch legs afterward
- Supine Piriformis Stretch
- Start by lying down on the ground
- Bend your knees upward
- Cross the affected leg over the other as you bend it towards your chest
- With one hand, grab your knee, and grab your ankle with the other.
- Pull them towards your shoulder slowly until you feel the stretch in your buttocks
- Hold this position for at least 30 seconds up to a minute and relax
- Outer Hip Piriformis Stretch
- Start by lying on your back
- Bend your affected leg upward and place your foot near the back of the other knee
- Twist your leg to the opposite side. Make sure your knee is touching the ground
- Place the hand on the side where your knee is and raise the other hand in the air
- Maintain this position for at least 20 seconds and then switch legs
- Go back to the lying position
- Stretch both legs
- Bend both knees and pull them towards your chest with your hands
- Side Lying Clam Exercise
- Start by lying on your side. Make sure that the affected hip or leg is on top
- Bend both legs backward to form the letter L. Make sure one foot is on top of the other.
- Keep your spine and hip straight
- With both feet together, raise the knee on top upward towards the ceiling
- Return to your original position slowly
- Repeat at least 15-20 times
- Hip Extensions
- Start by getting on the ground on all fours (your hands and knees on the ground)
- Make sure your hands are aligned with your shoulders
- Put your weight off of your affected leg and raise it upward with your knee slightly bent
- Lower the leg slowly and stop as soon as your knees almost touch the floor.
- Repeat this motion for at least 15 times.
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