The nerve that originates in your lower back and runs down each leg through your buttocks, and the back of your thigh and calf is called "sciatic nerve". An injury to this nerve gives rise to severe leg pain. This condition is named as "sciatica". In severe cases, the nerve gets "trapped" or "pinched".
Large bones or vertebrae of the spine are separated from each other by spinal discs that work as shock absorbers. A disc bulge or herniated disc often leads to a pinched sciatic nerve, which eventually results in excruciating pain in lower back, leg (typically, one leg), and the foot. This condition is often called a "slipped disc", but actually discs can't slip, they are firmly fixed above and below.
- Lumbar spondylosis: Movement of one vertebra on the other causes irritation of the nerve.
- Spinal stenosis: Narrowing of the spinal canal leads to nerve root irritation.
- Spinal disc disease: Dehydration, wear and tear of discs, and aging lead to sciatica and back pain.
- Muscle strain: Excessive work for muscles creates pressure on the nerve.
- Piriformis syndrome: A muscle located in the buttocks (the piriformis muscle) contracts and irritates the nerve.
- Osteoarthritis of the spine: Broken bits of cartilage float around inside the spinal joints causing irritation, inflammation, and pressure on the nerve.
One may notice some or all the following symptoms.
- Pain in one leg and buttock
- Pain in foot
- Pain in lower back and hips
- Pins and needles in the leg or foot
- Pain in the back of the thigh and calf
- Numbness in the leg or foot.
- Foot drop, or a feeling of weakness in the leg or foot
Prompt consultation with a physician is necessary to determine the underlying cause of sciatica.
- Over the counter anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen help get rid of both, pain and inflammation.
- Severe acute sciatica is usually treated with codeine preparations and/or muscle relaxants.
- Corticosteroids injections into the spinal fluid around the affected area help alleviate severe pain.
- Exercises to release the nerve pain include stretching muscles in the back, buttocks, and hamstrings (muscles in the back of the thigh).
- Low impact aerobic exercises like walking, swimming, and riding a stationary bike increase circulation, and promote healing.
- Let surgery be the last option. The type of surgery will depend upon the exact cause of sciatica.
- Bed rest for a couple of days may help alleviate acute and sharp nerve pain. But it may not promote complete recovery. Physical inactivity leads to weakening of muscles.
- Ab muscles and back muscles support and protect the joints of the spine. Exercises strengthen these muscles as they help increase blood circulation. Thus, they promote healing.
- Specially designed stretches and yoga exercises can loosen tight muscles, and increase spaces between the vertebrae, allowing more room for the spinal nerves.
- Applying ice or heat, using good mattress and chair, correcting the sitting and sleeping postures, massaging, avoiding heavy lifting, avoiding prolonged sitting or standing, are some other precautionary measures to prevent sciatica from recurring.
To reduce the risk of sciatica, you should keep the back muscles strong and flexible. Regular exercises help slow down age-related degenerative changes in the spine, and can help prevent sciatica from recurring. An individualized exercise program can be designed by a physiotherapist, taking into consideration specific condition of the patient, and the particular cause of sciatic nerve pain.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.