Sciatica is condition in which pain radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve. This nerve branches from your lower back down through your hips and buttocs and down each leg. Though there rare cases where individuals are affected on both sides of the body, sciatica symptoms are typically limited to just one side. While the pain associated with sciatica may be quite severe, most cases can be resolved with non-operative treatments in just a few weeks. People who suffer from severe sciatica will experience many different symptoms, though significant leg weakness and bowel or bladder changes are most common.
Other common sciatica symptoms include:
- Constant and unceasing pain in one side of the buttock or leg.
- Pain that originates in the low back or buttocks and continues down the back of the thigh into the lower leg and foot region.
- Pain that only feels better when a patient lies down or are walking (symptoms worsen when standing or sitting).
- Pain that is best described as sharp or searing
- A pins and needles sensation
- Numbness and weakness
- A prickling sensation down the legs
- Weakness or numbness when moving the leg or foot
- Severe shooting pain in one leg
- Pain in the toes
- Lower back pain
Sciatica symptoms will typically intensify when a patient makes sudden movements such as sneezing or coughing, changing positions, or when moving from a sitting to standing position. If you experience any of these symptoms on a regular basis, you will want to see your primary care physician and be referred to a specialist.
What is Sciatica?
Sciatica is a painful condition that can often negatively affect a patient’s overall quality of life and ability to function. Symptoms can worsen overtime and should receive prompt medical attention.
Sciatica is essentially pain in the lower region of the body that results from irritation along the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve runs down the back, through your buttocks, down the legs, and into the feet. Severity of the pain felt can vary from patient to patient,thought is most commonly felt in the lower back and behind the thighs. Sometimes it will radiate down the knees and into the feet.
The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body. It begins from nerve roots in the spinal cord located in the lower back and extends out over the buttock area and down into the lower limbs. The pain of sciatica is often classified as sciatic nerve pain and can only be properly diagnosed with a physical exam and a close approximation of your medical history.
The typical symptoms of sciatica are most helpful in aiding a medical provider in diagnosing sciatica. In addition to common symptoms, x-rays, MRI scan, CT scan, and electromyograms are all used to define the root causes of sciatica and identify the condition within your body.
There are many qualified health care physicians who can treat and evaluate sciatica. They range from general family doctors to qualified specialists and subspecialists. Typically these specialties will include family medicine, general medicine, internal medicine, gynecology, neurosurgery, orthopedics, pain management specialists, rheumatology, and physiatrist. Other health providers who may be well versed in treating sciatica include physical therapists, massage therapists, acupuncturists, chiropractors, and psychologists.
The type of specialist you need to see is dependent on the severity of your symptoms, age, and overall medical history. Even if you feel like you can manage the pain of sciatica symptoms on your own, it is always advised to seek medical attention.
What causes Sciatica?
Sciatica is believed to stem from a few different causes, but generally the theory is that sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve in the body becomes pinched. This can be due to a herniated disk in your spinal region or even an overgrowth of the bone on your vertebrae (also known as a bone spur). Less commonly, sciatica can be caused by a compressed tumor or even damage that can occur due to a disease such as diabetes.
There are many identified risk factors for sciatica, some are more common than others. The most common risk factors associated with sciatica symptoms are:
- Age and age related changes in the spine. Specifically herniated disks and bone spurs.
- Obesity. When one increases the stress of the spine, sciatic can occur. Excess body weight can be a top contributor to spinal changes that may trigger sciatica symptoms.
- Occupation. Any job that requires you to carry large loads, drive a motor vehicle for long hours, or causes you to twist your back, may contribute to sciatic symptoms.
- Prolonged sitting. Individuals who sit for long periods of time either due to work or a sedentary lifestyle may experience sciatica at some point in their lives.
- Diabetes. Given that this condition influences the way your body uses blood sugar, the risk of nerve damage is high.
These risk factors do not necessarily mean you will develop sciatica at some point in your life. Even those who are in the defined risk factors can lead a totally healthy and normal life without sciatic pain. Sciatic pain can not always be prevented and can be a recurring condition. Luckily, there are a few ways to help protect your spine and improve your chances of avoiding sciatic pain all together.
Ways to help protect your back include:
-Regular exercise. When you work out your back and pay attention to your core muscles you are creating proper posture and alignment. This can help prevent back pain and pinched nerves.
-Maintaining proper posture. Always choose a seat with a good lower back support, arm rests, and a base that can swivel. If necessary, place a pillow or rolled towel at the base of your back. This can help it to maintain a healthy normal curve.
-Aim for good body mechanics. If you’re the type who stands for long periods of time, switch off on the foot you stand on. Rest one foot on a stool or box to alleviate pressure on one leg at a time. When you lift a heavy item, lift from your lower extremities, not your back. Move straight up and down, don’t bend and keep your back straight. The only thing that should be bent is your knees.
If you are experiencing any sciatica symptoms always consult a medical professional to help develop a treatment plan. Many times sciatica symptoms will not go away on their own and alleviating pain will require a doctor’s visit. Always air on the side of caution when it comes to your health and never jeopardize your overall quality of life.