What is Sciatica and How is it Treated
Sciatica is a common condition that causes sharp pain in the lower back and legs. The condition often gets better on its own without the need for any treatment, however, there are treatment options available if your symptoms persist.
What Is Sciatica
Sciatica is the term used to describe the pain caused by irritation and discomfort of the sciatic nerve.
The sciatic nerve happens to be the largest nerve in the body. It stems from the lower back, through the buttock and the thigh and down the leg to the feet. The sciatic nerve is responsible for connecting the spinal cord to the muscles in the limbs. Any pain that is caused by pressure to or irritation of the sciatic nerve is classed as Sciatica.
Sciatica is often confused with general back pain, however, the condition has some distinct symptoms.
Sciatica can cause pain anywhere from the lower back, down the back of the legs to the feet. Sciatica can cause numbness in the leg, pins and needles and tingling.
Sciatica causes a sharp pain that radiates from the lower spine, through the buttock, and down the leg. Sciatica is distinctive as the pain occurs on one side of the body or down one leg, it rarely affects both sides of the body simultaneously.
What Causes Sciatica
One of the most common causes of sciatica is a slipped disk. A spinal injury can also cause sciatica as can Spondylolisthesis (a condition that causes the bones in the spine to slip out of place). Less common causes include spinal tumors and spinal infections. The pain itself is caused by pressure on or damage to the sciatic nerve.
Sciatica may be prevented in some cases by following an active lifestyle, exercising regularly and maintaining a correct posture when sitting, lifting or standing.
Treating Sciatic Pain
Sciatica can cause a lot of discomforts, but there are a number of treatments that can help ease the symptoms:
Hot or cold compress – Applying heat to the area can help reduce the symptoms. A cold pack or a cold compress can also be used to ease the pain. If using heat, only do so for a short amount of time.
Light exercise – Gentle stretching exercises can help ease tension in the lower back and reduce the pain. Be sure to consult an expert to advise you of the best way to stretch and exercise to avoid aggravating the condition. Light walking and gentle stretches are generally recommended. Yoga has also been known to help.
See a Physio – A physiotherapist is trained to treat pain in areas of the body. A trained professional will be able to assess the condition, advise you of the best way to exercise and recommend treatment options.
Medication – Painkillers such as paracetamol, codeine or ibuprofen can provide pain relief. Low dose antidepressants are also considered effective in some cases. Certain antidepressants taken in a low dose have been known to reduce nerve sensation and ease pain and discomfort caused by nerve damage.
Muscle relaxants – Muscle relaxants are often prescribed to treat sciatica pain. They work by reducing muscle spasms and easing muscle tension. Your doctor will be able to advise you of the treatments available.
Cortisone Injections – Cortisone can be injected into the spine via epidural. Cortisone helps to reduce inflammation around the nerve and provides short-term pain relief.
Psychological Support and CBT – Your GP will be able to advise of any options for receiving psychological support to help you with managing chronic pain. Although this is unlikely to ease the physical symptoms, having support on hand can help you deal with pain management as well as any stress and anxiety caused by the condition. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has also been proven helpful in dealing with chronic pain.
Surgery – In some cases, surgery can be performed to reduce pressure on the sciatic nerve. This is often considered when all other options have proven unsuccessful.
Sciatica is a common condition that causes pain in the lower back and down the legs. In some cases, sciatica pain will ease itself after around 4-6 weeks, whereas in other cases, treatment is necessary to ease the symptoms. There are many ways to treat sciatica pain, including over the counter painkillers, gentle exercise, heat treatment, and physiotherapy.