Treating sciatica to relieve pain and discomfort.
What causes sciatica?
Sciatica is caused by the irritation and/or compression of the sciatic nerve.
Sciatica describes the symptoms of pain, numbness and weakness that radiate along the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve runs from the back of your pelvis, through your buttocks, down the back of both legs, ending at your feet.
Signs and symptoms of Sciatica:
Sciatic pain can vary from mild and irritating to constant and incapacitating. It can be made worse by sitting or standing for long periods, sneezing and coughing. Symptoms can be different in location and severity as this depends upon the condition causing the sciatica. While people with sciatica can suffer back pain, the pain associated with sciatica usually affects the buttocks and legs much more. Depending on the cause, symptoms can travel as far down as the feet and toes.
Sciatica is often characterised by either one or from a combination of the following symptoms:
- Muscle weakness in the affected leg
- Tingling sensation from back through the buttock traveling down the leg.
- Constant or intermittent pain in only one side of the buttock or leg (rarely can occur in both legs)
- Pain that is worse when sitting
- Leg pain that is often described as burning, tingling or searing
- Weakness, numbness and/or difficulty moving the leg or foot
- A sharp pain that may make it difficult to stand up or to walk
Causes of Sciatica are:
- Sciatica is often caused by lower back disorders between the forth lumbar and third sacral vertebrae, where there is pressure or irritation to a lumbar nerve root.
- Sciatica is sometimes caused by a herniated or “slipped” disc. This is when one of the discs that sit between the bones of the spine is damaged and presses on the nerves.
- Degenerative disc disease.
- Less common causes include spinal stenosis (narrowing of the nerve passages in the spine), a spinal injury, infection, or a growth within the spine (such as a tumour).
In rare cases, surgery may be needed to correct the underlying problem in your spine. Sciatica itself can be treatable through a range of treatments and therapies offered by professional therapists.
Other causes of sciatica
There are many other causes of sciatica that are more easily treated; for example problems with over tight muscles in the hamstrings, Piriformis Syndrome (spasm in the piriformis) and weak glutes.
Sciatica that is caused by less complicated conditions are easily treatable by a professional physical therapist such as a sports therapist or physiotherapist.
There are a combination of things you can do at home to reduce the symptoms of sciatica until the condition improves:
- Taking over the counter anti inflammatory painkillers
- Use of hot or cold packs
- Avoiding dehydration
- Managing stress levels
- Avoiding sleep deprivation
You are advised to speak to your GP or pharmacist about taking any over the counter medications.
You can minimise your risk of developing a slipped disc or back injury that could lead to sciatica by adopting a better posture and lifting techniques, stretching before and after exercise, and exercising regularly. While bed rest may provide some temporary pain relief, prolonged bed rest is often considered unnecessary and unhelpful.
Gentle stretching to the following muscle groups can help to ease sciatic tension and alleviate pain
To stretch the piriformis, lie on your back and gently pull your knee towards your opposite shoulder. You should feel a tightness (not a pain), hold for 6 seconds, drop your leg down and repeat 5 times.
Lower back – knee to chest stretch
To improve the flexibility of your lower back lie on your back on a mat or the carpet. Place a small flat cushion or book under your head. Bend your knees and keep your feet straight and hip-width apart. Keep your upper body relaxed and your chin gently tucked in. Bend one knee up towards your chest and grasp your knee with both hands. Slowly increase this stretch as comfort allows. Hold for 20-30 seconds with controlled deep breaths. Repeat three times, alternating legs.
Standing hamstring stretch
Stand upright and raise one leg on to a stable object, such as a step. Keep that leg straight and your toes pointing straight up. Lean forward while keeping your back straight. Hold for 20-30 seconds while taking deep breaths. Repeat two to three times with each leg.
Please note that it is important that you only stretch as far as comfortable. If you are in severe pain, have undergone an operation or have a medical condition then you are advised to check with your GP if the above exercise are safe for you to practice.
Seeking further help
If you are suffering with sciatica and would like to know how Fit n Well can help you or if would like to book an appointment please phone Maria on 07977 427644 or email us using the link below.
Contact Fit n Well, Aston, Stone, Staffordshire ( click link)
When to see your GP
You should see your GP if your symptoms are severe or persistent, or are getting worse over time. You should immediately call 999 for an ambulance if you experience loss of sensation between your legs and around your buttocks and/or loss of bladder or bowel control as this may be caused by a more serious condition.