Sciatica is a type of pain that radiates within the path of the sciatic nerve, which is the largest nerve that spreads from the lower back to your hips and down to the back of both left and right legs. Many people confuse sciatica with general back pain, but it is important to know that sciatica is not limited to the back because it affects the widest and longest nerve of our body, meaning sciatica can occur in your back, hips, buttock, and legs.
The most common cause of sciatica is a compressed nerve in the lower spine, usually when a herniated disk compresses part of the nerve. When that happens, the affected leg will experience pain, inflammation, and numbness. Irritation of the roots of the lower lumbar and lumbosacral spine can also cause sciatica. The following are some other conditions that can cause sciatica:
- Lumbar spinal stenosis, a condition in which the spinal cord in your lower back narrows.
- Tumors in the spine, which can compress the root of the sciatic nerve.
- Infection can affect the spine.
- Spondylolisthesis, which is a condition where one vertebra slips forward above the vertebra below it.
- Other things such as being overweight, not having regular exercise, sleeping on the wrong type of mattress, and wearing heels for too long can also cause sciatica.
There are also common risk factors for sciatica. Age is one of the most common risk factors because people in the age of 30 and 40 tend to have a higher risk of developing sciatic nerve pain. Your occupation is another risk factor. If your job requires heavy lifting, you are more prone to sciatica. Other risk factors are sedentary lifestyles and medical conditions, such as obesity and diabetes. Symptoms of sciatica are:
- Pain around your leg or rear that feels worse when you sit.
- Lower back pain
- Hip pain
- Numbness difficulty of moving your leg
- Continuous pain on one side of the rear
- Tingling and burning sensation in your leg
- Pain that makes it hard for you to stand up.
Most sciatica only occurs on one side of the lower body. The pain you feel may spread from the lower back through the back of the thigh and down through the leg. You can also feel the pain that extends to your foot or toes. You may experience only a mild ache, but in some severe cases, you may also feel excruciating pain. When you sneeze or cough, the pain can feel a lot worse. Although mild sciatica can go away over time, you need to get immediate medical care if you experience these symptoms:
- Severe pain that occurs suddenly in your lower back or leg, as well as muscle weakness or numbness in your leg
- You previously experienced an injury
- It is hard for you to control your bowels and bladder.
If you experience any symptoms stated above, your doctor will diagnose you by performing a physical exam. Your doctor may check your muscle strength and reflexes. Sometimes, your doctor also orders you to do imaging tests, including MRI, X-ray, CT scan, and Electromyography (EMG). Preventing sciatica is not always possible since the condition may recur. But it can be prevented with several lifestyle changes, including regular exercise and maintain proper posture when you are sitting or standing. Self-care measures can treat acute sciatica, such as taking over-the-counter painkillers (ibuprofen), exercises such as walking or light stretching, yoga, and using cold or hot compression packs to reduce the pain. However, if self-care measures do not seem to improve the symptoms, your doctor may suggest some of the following treatments.
- Medications, such as tricyclic antidepressants, anti-seizure medications, anti-inflammatories, and muscle relaxants.
- Physical therapy, which includes exercises to strengthen the muscles that support your back, to correct your posture, as well as to improve your flexibility.
- Steroid injections around the involved nerve root. Steroid injections can help reduce pain and suppress inflammation.
- Surgery can be an option if other treatments have failed to relieve your symptoms. The surgical options are lumbar laminectomy and discectomy.