Have you ever felt like you had a bad leg cramp or a sudden pain from your lower back which makes it hard for you to stand up and walk? Or worse, does this pain get even more painful when you sit, sneeze or cough? If you answered yes, then you might have sciatica.
Wait, sciatica? Have you even heard of it? If not, here are some things you should know about this condition, what causes it and the different ways, both natural and surgical, to treat and eventually get rid of it.
What Is Sciatica?
Did you know that sciatica is not a disease but a symptom of another medical condition? That’s right. It refers to any pain or knife-like sensation along the path of the sciatic nerve which starts from your lower back through your hips and buttocks and down to each leg. This is the trademark of sciatica.
The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in your body. It transmits nerve impulses all up and down this area and through to other branches of smaller nerves along the way. If your sciatic nerves are compressed or irritated, it can cause pain starting from your lower back which can range from mild to very painful.
Aside from sciatica back pain, other symptoms include:
- The pain can cause sharp and burning sensation or excruciating discomfort.
- A feeling of jolt or electric shock that can get worse when you cough or sneeze.
- Usually, only one side of your body is affected.
- The affected leg or foot is numb or has a tingling sensation.
Sciatic pain goes away after a few days or weeks. However, if you experience other symptoms such as weight loss, loss of bladder or bowel control, or intense pain that is too severe to manage, then it’s time to consult a doctor.
What Causes Sciatica?
Sciatica is often a symptom of a “pinched nerve” that affects one or more of the lower spinal nerves. This means that this nerve pinched either inside or outside of the spinal canal as it passes into the leg.
Again, sciatica is only a symptom of another medical condition. Hence, these conditions that affect the sciatica are:
- A herniated or slipped disc that puts pressure on the nerve root – This is the most common cause of sciatica. A herniated disk happens when the gel-like center protrude into or through the disk’s outer lining. As a result, the herniated disk will press directly on the nerve roots that become the sciatic nerve.
- Trauma – This includes car accident, sports injuries, falling down or even sleeping in the wrong position. A sudden impact may compress the nerves which can significant pain.
- Piriformis syndrome – This happens when the piriformis muscles or the muscle found in your buttocks becomes tight. This can put pressure and irritate the sciatic nerve which can cause pain.
- Spinal stenosis – This condition happens when the spinal canal narrows, thereby putting pressure on the nerves.
- Spondylolisthesis – This happens when one vertebra slips out of line with the one above it that narrows the opening through which the nerve exits.
How Is This Condition Diagnosed?
A simple back pain accompanied with persistent leg cramps does not automatically mean you have sciatica. Here is a list of what’s going to happen to determine whether you have sciatica or not.
- Inform your doctor about your complete medical history. At the same time, you should also tell him about the symptoms you are experiencing.
- A physical exam must also be conducted to find out what causes sciatica. An example of this is the straight-leg-raise test in which you lie on your back and your doctor will slowly raise the leg and take note of the elevation which you start to feel pain.
- You also need to go through further testing such as but not limited to:
– X-ray, in case there are fractures in your spine.
– MRI or CT scan to see the images of the structures of your back.
– Myelogram which uses a dye to be injected in your vertebrae to check if the disc is causing your pain.
These are only some of the procedures to be done to check if you have sciatica. Keep in mind that the diagnosis may vary from doctor to doctor so ask him about the best options to detect the causes of sciatica and the nerve roots affected.
Can Sciatica be Treated and Cured?
Of course! The good news is science and medicine have come up with different treatments available to solve almost all medical conditions, including sciatica. Sciatica treatment that will bring some form of sciatica pain relief ranges from taking pain medication, cortisone injections, surgery (especially in extreme situations), hot or cold compress, massage and most importantly, gentle exercise.
Here is a list of the options available to help you solve your sciatica problem.
Surgical Treatment for Sciatica
If you have conditions related to bone malformations, bone spurs, narrowing of the canal of the spine that houses the spinal cord or tumor, then surgery is recommended. At the same time, surgical sciatica treatment can help remove the herniated disk to stop it from pressuring on your nerve.
Surgical options may include:
- Microdiscectomy – This procedure will remove the fragments of herniated disc.
- Laminectomy – This will remove the bone that covers and curves around the spinal cord and the tissue that causes pressure on the sciatic nerve.
However, surgery is only your last resort. If you have not responded well to non-surgical options and you still have a disabled leg for at least three months, then surgery might be your best option.
Did you know that up to 90% of sciatica patients get better even without surgery? If you are looking for cheapest sciatica pain relief ways, then you might want to resort to non-surgical means. Keep in mind that given ample time and rest, sciatica will heal by itself.
For muscular and compressed nerves exercise, hot presses and medication can offer relief in these instances. Medications do not solve the issue but taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or paracetamol can bring relief from pain by masking the symptoms. Cortisone-like drug which will be injected in the spinal area can also help your condition.
Also, warm or cold compress can help a lot in soothing your aching muscles. Compress can stimulate blood flow to the area and relax surrounding muscles and provide pain relief that way. Just make sure to move around since too much rest with the compress may cause the other parts of the body to feel discomfort.
Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation
Who says rehab is only for those who are recovering from a serious injury? Apparently, rehab is also one way to obtain relief from sciatica pain. The primary goal of physical therapy is to look for exercises that will reduce the pressure on the nerves.
You will be given a list of exercises which includes stretching exercises to improve on the flexibility of tight muscles, and aerobic exercises. You will also be asked to perform exercises that will strengthen your back while limiting bending or twisting.
The topic that deserves more discussion than it usually gets is the different exercises for sciatica. There is no doubt that the weakest parts of the body are the back muscles and the abdominal muscles. These two areas are responsible for major support, hence it’s a shame that they are not kept in better shape.
The fact that the abdomen and back are not in better shape is simply a reflection on the lifestyle of many where the hustle and bustle of living coupled with a leisure cantered lifestyle doesn’t give too many immediate rewards for exercising and strengthening those areas. Muscles that once may have been in good shape are now de-conditioned through disuse over time.
In general, muscles in the back and abdomen should be stretched and exercised before a trauma occurs. Muscles that are in good shape will help prevent or at least minimize the effects in case accident happens. Still, why would you wait for something bad to happen before you strengthen those muscles right? Simple half sit-ups, back lift-ups and stretching exercises of the back and hamstring muscles in the legs can be helpful in toning and strengthening these areas.
These types of exercises should be done mildly and in sets of threes. If the muscles begin to tighten up while performing them, they should be stopped. After all, you are not entering the Olympics rather you are only after toning and strengthening.
Here are some effective exercise techniques you can do to address your sciatica issues:
- Exercise No. 1 – Lie down on the floor on your back with your knees bent. Push down on the knee of the sore leg as you pull up behind the thigh of the good leg. Repeat 10 times.
- Exercise No. 2 – Sit on a chair with the good leg stretched straight out in front. Hold onto the ankle of the good leg and pull directly towards the chest Hold for five seconds and repeat five times
Sit on the floor with both legs stretched out straight ahead on the floor. Bend at the waist as far as forward as you can go keeping the knees locked. Hold for ten seconds then relax for ten seconds. Then repeat.
Lower Back Stretches
- Exercise No. 1 – Lie face down on the floor with the feet straight out behind you. Lift the head while arching the back. Support the body with the hands on the floor. Hold this for 10 seconds. Relax. Repeat
- Exercise No. 2 – Sit in a chair and put the hands together and stretch them up over your head. With the arms stretched, bend your upper body to one side and hold. Repeat in the opposite direction. Hold for ten seconds on each side.
- Exercise No. 3 – The stomach muscles are one of the most important muscle groups to tone and stretch when trying to ease pain in the lower back. Lie on the floor on your back place the feet up on a chair or bed. Clasp the hands behind your head. Do crunches by sitting up toward the feet until you feel the abdominal muscles contract and the back muscles stretch. Do ten crunches at a time then rest. Do three sets.
Aerobic conditioning is important to for overall body fitness. One of the best ways to do this is by walking. It is an excellent form of exercise for your lower back because of its low impact. If you can, do brisk walking up to three miles everyday.
Sciatica pain relief can be obtained in many cases by performing exercises such as these. These exercises when done on a regular basis will also strengthen the muscles of you back and abdomen that will be a safeguard against future episodes. If these muscles stay fit they will be less prone to cause problems.
If simple exercises don’t help talk to your physiotherapist, chiropractor or visit you doctor. They will be able to find a solution to your problem so you can be pain-free. Remember, there is no magic formula that will instantly get rid of sciatica. Sciatica cure is a combination of these treatments and finding the best one for you will take a lot of trial and error.
Is There a Way to Prevent This Condition?
The sad truth is sciatica may be a recurring problem. This means that if you get rid of it now, there is no assurance that you can no longer get it. The good news is there are different ways on how to protect and strengthen your back.
Take a look at these tips that can help prevent this type of condition.
- Exercise regularly. Who says exercise is just for those who want to lose weight? Regular exercise is the best thing you can give to your whole body, especially on your back. Pay extra attention to core muscles that are essential for proper posture and alignment such as the ones in the abdomen and lower back.
- Avoid sitting for long periods. If it’s really unavoidable, stretch your legs or stand up once in a while to avoid strain in your lower back.
- Use proper posture, whether you are standing, sitting or even sleeping. Look for seats and beds that have a good lower back support. Maintaining a good posture can help relieve the pressure on your back and minimise pain.
- Get rid of smoking. Cigarettes promote disc degeneration which can add up to your pain.
- Practice proper lifting techniques. Weights can help build and strengthen your muscles. However, make sure that you are doing it the right way, no matter how light or heavy the object may be. You can do by this lifting with your back straight, bringing yourself up with your hips and legs while holding the object close to your chest.
Sciatica pain can go away given a sufficient time and proper rest – even without surgery. Keep these things in mind so you will know what to do the next time sciatica back, hip or leg pain attacks.
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