Sciatica refers to any kind of pain in the lower back radiating down the leg. Sciatic nerve pain can occur due to compression at the lumbar vertebrae resulting in a pinched sciatic nerve.
It can also result from a herniated disc, spinal stenosis, or arthritis of the hip joint. Pain may radiate down the buttocks and thighs and sometimes even along the legs. The cause of the pain is often unclear.
Symptoms of sciatica
The symptoms of sciatica may depend upon when it started and how long it has been present. In some cases, the pain begins after heavy lifting, prolonged standing, riding bicycles, or running. Other causes of sciatica include injury to the pelvis area, pregnancy, obesity, and spinal cord damage (such as in the case of poliomyelitis).
Some people have sciatic pain related to their sleep position. You might not realize you are sleeping wrong until you wake up with pain. If you suffer from sciatica, try switching positions every time you go to bed.
Sleeping on your stomach instead of your side can help prevent further back problems. If you can’t switch sleeping positions, use pillows to prop yourself up while sleeping. Resting your knees higher than hips helps relieve pressure on the spine.
To minimize neck pain, avoid carrying objects above shoulder level. Hold items close to your body; don’t carry books or purses across your chest. Avoid stooping over frequently, since this puts extra strain on your low back.
Intermittent claudication is a symptom of arterial disease. It occurs when an artery becomes narrowed and blood flow to the muscles is reduced, causing muscle cramping and weakness. Claudication is a warning sign that you need to make lifestyle changes, such as smoking cessation, exercise, weight loss, and increased physical activity.
Pain in the calf muscles can be caused by diabetes mellitus, gout, or rheumatoid arthritis. Infections, especially of the knee, can cause inflammation and swelling in the joints. A history of trauma may indicate a fracture or dislocation.
If symptoms persist, seek medical advice. Your doctor will perform tests to determine if the problem is serious enough to require surgery. There are several surgical procedures that can treat conditions associated with sciatica. These procedures include removal of bulging discs, fusion of two adjacent vertebrae, and decompression of the nerves.
Pain along the distribution of the sciatic nerve starts below the buttocks and travels down the backside of the thigh and leg. This type of pain may radiate down the bottom of the foot. In some cases, pain may also occur behind the knee and ankle. There may be numbness and tingling in the area affected by the nerve palsy.
How to treat Sciatica
1. Stay active
The first step in treating sciatica is to rest, relax, and stay active. If possible, go for a walk, stretch, or do some yoga to help the pain and swelling subside. Avoid lifting heavy objects and bending over if you feel any pain while walking.
A combination of stretching exercises, massage therapy, acupuncture, exercise, and chiropractic care may provide relief. Aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may relieve the pain temporarily. Your doctor may recommend a short course of cortisone injections with local anesthesia.
Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce inflammation and improve symptoms of pain and spasms. Try fish such as salmon, tuna, herring, and sardines; flaxseed oil; walnuts; soybeans; green leafy vegetables; and beans.
3. Stress management
Stress is a major contributor to many different types of conditions including back pain, headaches, and depression. Learning how to manage these negative emotions can help alleviate tension and lead to feeling less stressed out.
Talk about your feelings with someone close to you who cares about your well being. Schedule time each day to meditate, exercise, take walks, or enjoy leisure activities. Consider enrolling in a mindfulness program or group therapy session.
4. Herbal remedies
Herbs are nature’s best medicines and can be used to aid in healing various ailments. Many herbs are known for their analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects. Examples include chamomile, catnip, feverfew, marigold, peppermint, lavender, lemon balm, licorice root, turmeric, and valerian. You can purchase herbal supplements at your local natural foods store without a prescription.
Acupuncture involves inserting fine needles into specific points along the body’s meridians. Research suggests that people who receive acupuncture treatments experience improvements after just 24 hours.
Acupuncture helps to calm nerve impulses and reduces muscle tension. It is often combined with medication to relieve pain caused by arthritis and musculoskeletal disorders. Acupuncture may also be helpful in relieving chronic pain associated with fibromyalgia.
Exercise gives your muscles and joints a workout. Exercise increases blood flow to your lower extremities, helping them function more efficiently. Low intensity aerobic activity is recommended three times per week and flexibility exercises two times weekly.
Yoga, swimming, biking, weight training, and tai chi are examples of low-impact exercises that are effective for reducing discomfort associated with sciatica.
7. Massage Therapy
Massage therapy is a relaxing way to ease tension throughout your body. It also helps to loosen tight muscles and increase mobility. Therapists use pressure, vibration, and rhythmic motions to promote circulation and improve range of motion.
Massage therapists may work with soft tissue techniques alone or combine them with manual lymph drainage (MLD), which involves applying gentle compression to the affected area using a roller or thumbtack.
You should try to avoid positions that put pressure on your low back. Avoid long hours sitting at work, instead find ways to change position or stand frequently throughout the day. Try to sleep on your side rather than your stomach, and make sure to keep your feet flat on the floor. If you have an urge to stand or walk around often, try to do it only briefly before lying down again.