What is Sciatic Nerve?
The sciatic nerve is actually the longest nerve in our bodies. It goes from our lower back spine, through the hips and buttocks and all the way down to the legs and toes.
What is Sciatica?
Sciatica is a name that refers to the pain in one leg caused by irritation or pressure on the sciatic nerve. The pain usually happens only in one leg, no matter which one, and it is felt in the buttock, leg, and sometimes the feet.
The main symptom of sciatic nerve irritation is basically pain that goes from the lower back, through the hips and buttocks and often ends down in the feet. You can feel pain in one or both of the legs as well as muscle weakness, numbness or tingling in the leg.
Causes of Sciatica
As we read above, sciatica happens when the sciatic nerve gets irritated. This can happen from many reasons. However, these are the most common ones:
Herniated disc (slipped disc): Slipped disc is the most common cause of sciatica. This is a condition when the outer part of the disc herniates and the gel that’s inside it protrudes out between the spine vertebrae.
This gel-like fluid can cause pressure and irritation on the nerves. The sciatic nerve is a target of this fluid and that’s how it can cause sciatica.
Either the nerve will be pressured from the gel, or the gel will irritate the nerve. No matter how it will happen, herniated disc can be the cause for sciatica.
Spinal Stenosis: spinal stenosis represents narrowing of the passages of the nerves in the spine. In this case, the bones, ligaments or the discs that are in the spine restrict the nerves. This condition is more common and specific in people that are older, or above 40 years old. However, no one is immune.
Muscle/Ligament Injuries: some injury of a muscle or a ligament located in the back can also cause irritation on the sciatic nerve. There will probably be some inflammation or swelling in the back area which will irritate the nerves.
Other less common causes: some infection in the back or spine and a tumor in the spine area are both possible, but less common causes.
Treatment of Sciatica
Once you know all the causes and symptoms of sciatica, the next thing you have to focus on is how to treat it properly and find relief. In most people who suffer from sciatic nerve irritation, the pain goes away by itself after a period of approximately 1 month. However there are also cases where some other treatments and procedures are required. So, to sum up, for a successful treatment of sciatica you need self-care, medications and in some cases surgery.
– Exercising – if you suffer from sciatica, the first and most important thing you need to do is staying active. Although exercising with sciatica can be tough, it is important not to rest a lot because you will become stiff and slow down the treatment process. Some easy exercises like walking or perhaps stretching can be good for you.
– Applying heat and cold – heat and cold packs can be applied in order to relieve the pain temporarily. See which one works best for you. Try not to apply too hot or too freezing packs and be careful not to hold the pack for more than 15 or 20 minutes.
– Lifting weight – lifting heavy weights incorrectly is the number 1 cause of back injuries. Try to lift things with your arm muscles and hold the weight close to your body in order to avoid back injuries. This tip can be used as a prevention for back injuries and also if you already suffer from sciatica or other back injuries.
– Pain-killers – some regular over-the-counter pain-killers can be a good solution to relieve the pain from sciatica. However, if these pain-killers do not help you, consult your doctor to prescribe you some other type of pain-killers or an alternative.
– Injections – if pain-killers aren’t helping with your condition, epidural steroid injection can be the solution. This is a strong anti-inflammatory medication and it is applied directly in the affected area. Your doctor will decide if you’re suitable for this.
– in some more extreme cases of sciatica, surgery can also be performed (although it’s very rare). These surgeries are usually discectomy or microdiscectomy and they usually include removing the herniated parts of the disc (if this is the case) and freeing the nerve.