Sciatica: What Is It, and What Helps?
Lower back pain can have many causes, so identifying sciatica takes some careful thinking. Once you’ve identified that you are suffering from sciatica there are some simple steps you can take to relieve the pain and get back to normal.
Sciatica is just one type of lower back and leg pain. This is pain that originates from the sciatic nerve and can be felt anywhere on its path. The nerve’s path starts at the spine, goes through the pelvis, down the back of the thigh and leg to reach the foot. You can identify sciatica by the following symptoms:
Sciatica pain usually feels like a burning sensation or a shooting pain. It starts in the lower back or buttock and radiates down your thigh. You can feel pain just at the root of the nerve or all the way to your foot.
You may feel numbness in the back of your leg along with the pain sciatica causes. This might feel like tingling or pins and needles, or your leg might feel weak.
Sciatica symptoms are almost always experienced in only one leg. You might feel like the affected leg is heavy, or just painful. It is very rare for both legs to be affected by sciatica.
Symptoms Due to Posture
You might notice that your sciatica symptoms feel worse when you sit down, try to stand up, twist your spine, lie down, or cough. These postural changes can put pressure on the sciatic nerve. You can relieve symptoms by walking or using a heat pack near your sacrum.
Sciatica is not a specific medical condition. Instead, it is a term used to summarize the symptoms you experience. Sciatica is caused by an underlying medical condition. This condition could be one of several including:
• A herniated lumbar disc
- Lumbar spinal stenosis
- Lumbar degenerative disc disease (or general degeneration in your spine)
- Muscle spasm or inflammation
- Sacroiliac (SI) joint dysfunction
Very rarely, sciatica can be caused by a tumor, blood clot, or other condition. If you are experiencing sciatica and it is not resolved by treatments such as stretching and applying a heat pack, you should consult a doctor.
You should also consult a doctor if you think you have sciatica and experience any of the following symptoms:
- Progressive neurological symptoms such as leg weakness
- Symptoms that affect both legs
- Bowel or bladder incontinence
- Sexual dysfunction
- Sciatica that starts after an accident or trauma
- Sciatica symptoms along with fever or loss of appetite
These symptoms can indicate a more serious medical condition is causing your sciatica. You should talk to your doctor and include any symptoms that started around the same time, even if they seem unrelated.
Usually, you will be able to relieve your sciatica symptoms at home. With some simple remedies and time, you’ll be back to normal. Use a heat pack on your lower back or take a warm bath, do some gentle stretches, and try going for a walk every day. Important steps in avoiding sciatica include exercises that strengthen your spine, lower back, abdomen, buttocks, and hip. You will also want to stretch tight muscles that could be impeding the sciatic nerve, such as the hamstrings. More intensive treatment may include physical therapy, medications, therapeutic injections, and rarely surgery.