Sciatica is a common, but misunderstood, type of pain. Up to 40% of individuals will get it in their lifetime, and the chances of you developing it increase with age. Most individuals with acute sciatica have a favorable prognosis, but around 20 to 30% have chronic issues after a year or two. This article teaches you more about sciatica pain, how it’s treated and if there’s a cure for it.
Sciatica pain occurs along your sciatic nerve, which branches from your lower back to your buttocks and hips and down both legs. Generally, it affects just one side of your body. It often happens with a herniated disk, bone spur on your spine or narrowing of the spine called spinal stenosis puts pressure on part of your nerve, causing pain, inflammation and numbness in the leg affected.
In a majority of sciatica cases, a herniated disc with nerve root compression is the cause. However, lumbar stenosis and tumors are potential causes.
Lumbar spinal stenosis is the narrowing of the canal containing your spinal cord. As you get older, the bone may overgrow, putting pressure on your sciatic nerve. Many individuals with spinal stenosis suffer from sciatica on both sides of their backs.
Other possible causes are:
Pain radiating from your lumbar spine to your buttock and back down your leg is a good indication of sciatica. You may experience this pain anywhere along your nerve pathway, however, it’s particularly likely to follow the path from your lower back to your buttock as well as the back of your calf and thigh.
Fortunately, sciatica is often relieved within a matter of weeks through conservative methods and without requiring surgery. Working to improve your core and back strength while enhancing flexibility throughout your lower body and hips will substantially decrease your likelihood of experiencing low back pain and other sciatica symptoms.
A physical therapist can determine if you can relieve your sciatica through conservative measures like:
Most individuals respond well to these types of simple methods and are free of pain within a matter of weeks. Massage therapy and chiropractic adjustments might help improve your spine alignment and address any underlying conditions while also helping with muscle relaxation and blood circulation. You can treat mild pain with the application of cold and heat.
While some physicians might recommend surgery to treat sciatica if non-invasive methods fail, experts say it’s not always the best choice for everyone. Most individuals with sciatica will get better without surgery. Around half recover from sciatica within six weeks. While nonsurgical treatments could cause a longer recovery period, surgery has its own risks, including blood clots and infection. Therefore, you should talk about your sciatica with your doctor to decide on the best treatment approach for you.
Home remedies, medication or surgery are the treatment options for sciatica pain.
Sciatica pain can often limit your activities. Some home sciatica remedies you can try include:
If self-care measures don’t improve your pain, your doctor might recommend some of the treatments below.
The types of medicines that the doctor may prescribe for sciatica pain are:
Once you experience an improvement in your acute pain, a physical therapist can develop a rehabilitation plan to help you prevent injuries in the future. This generally includes exercises to strengthen the muscles that support your back, correct your posture and improve your flexibility.
In certain cases, the doctor may recommend a corticosteroid medication injection into the area around the nerve root involved. Corticosteroid medications help decrease pain by suppressing the inflammation around the aggravated nerve. The effects typically wear off after several months. The number of steroid injections you might receive is limited since your risk of serious side effects increases when injections occur too often.
Surgery is typically reserved for when your compressed nerve leads to:
Surgeons can remove the part of your herniated disk pressing on your pinched nerve or remove the bone spur.
Once your pain goes away, you can get moving to prevent recurring attacks.
Many individuals fear activity is what causes their pain. However, low-impact exercise and activity can actually help to strengthen the area, preventing future attacks. Exercises may include:
A physical therapist or doctor might recommend you perform a few of these stretches below daily:
Pigeon pose a popular pose in yoga that opens your hips. There are three variations of this pose.
The starting version is called reclining pigeon pose. If you’re just beginning your treatment, this is the pose you’ll want to do first.
The next version is sitting pigeon pose.
The third version is forward pigeon pose. This pose is similar to sitting pigeon pose except your straight leg stretches behind you instead of in front.
This simple pose can stretch your glutes and lower back.
Cobra pose is a slight backbend to reset after stretching your lower back.
This stretch helps loosen your piriformis and gluteal muscles.
This pose could help alleviate tightness and pain in your hamstring that sciatica causes.
Don’t assume you’ll be as flexible as each exercise calls for. You need to work your way up to this type of flexibility. People in videos on TV or the internet can get into these stretches and poses more easily because they are generally more flexible and have been performing the exercise for years. If you experience any pain, you should immediately stop.
There’s no one-size-fits-all stretch or exercise for all individuals with sciatic nerve pain. You should adjust the positions slightly like bringing your knees in less or more and see how you feel. If one position feels better, that’s the one you want to pursue.
If you experience even minor sciatic nerve pain for over a month, you should see your doctor or a physical therapist. They might set you up with a customized exercise program you can do at home that’s specifically for your pain.
The licensed professionals and highly-trained staff here at NJ Spine and Wellness include specialists in physical therapy, chiropractic care, acupuncture, sports medicine, pain management, neuro rehab and regenerative medicine, occupational therapy and nutrition. We are here and ready to provide you and your family total wellness and help you get better faster. Book your appointment today.