The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve of our body, and when this nerve is irritated, one can experience a sharp pain that radiates from the lower back region to the legs. People in the age group of 30 to 50 years are more likely to suffer from this condition.
Sciatic nerve pain or sciatica is caused by the irritation of the sciatic nerve that originates in the lower back region, and extends to the back of the thigh and the lower limb. People often use the term ‘sciatica’ to refer to any pain that radiates to the legs, whether it is caused by a pinched sciatic nerve or any other condition.
But sciatica that radiates from the lower back region to the leg, is specifically caused by the compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve. This pain is often felt in either side of the lower part of the body, along with numbness and a tingling sensation. Several medical conditions can be associated with sciatica.
There can be several causes of sciatica. Lumbar herniated disc, lumbar spinal stenosis, degenerative disc diseases, and isthmic spondylolisthesis are some of the common conditions that can irritate the spinal nerve roots and cause sciatica.
A disc is a structure that separates one vertebrae from another, and a herniated disc refers to the protrusion of the inner core layer of a disc through its outer fibrous core. This condition is also known as a slipped disc, bulging disc, or ruptured disc. If it takes place in the lumbar region, it is called a lumbar herniated disc. The condition places pressure on the sciatic nerve, and causes pain that originates in the lumbar region of the body.
Degenerative disc disease or degenerative disc disorder is commonly associated with aging, and it can also be responsible for causing sciatica. Spinal stenosis or narrowing of the spinal canal is another condition that can be associated with sciatic nerve pain. This condition is more common in older individuals, especially those over 60 years of age.
Sometimes, spondylolisthesis or forward dislocation of the vertebrae can also cause sciatica by compressing the spinal nerves. However, mild and occasional sciatic pain can be caused by some minor factors, like an incorrect posture, especially while sleeping, a muscle strain or spasm, obesity, and pregnancy.
Lower back pain radiating down the back of the thigh and the leg, is the typical symptom of this condition. The pain can be mild and infrequent for some individuals, while for others, it can be quite intolerable and debilitating. Sometimes, the pain can be intense enough to restrict movements as well. The pain can be felt in one side of the lower body. Some individuals can experience pain not only in the back and the leg, but also in the foot and the toes. Along with pain, this condition can cause numbness and a burning or tingling sensation.
The treatment of this condition is determined by the underlying causes. This condition is usually diagnosed by carrying out some physical examinations, like X-rays, CT scans, MRI scans, and electromyogram, along with a proper evaluation of the symptoms. These tests and examinations help find out the root causes and determine the appropriate treatment for a pinched sciatic nerve.
The treatment of sciatic nerve damage can be classified into two categories – surgery and non-surgical treatment. Physicians usually suggest bed rest if the pain is not so severe, as sciatica has been observed to subside on its own within a few weeks with adequate rest. However, recurrences are common, for which it is important to address the underlying causes.
The application of heat or an ice pack can also help manage the pain. But sometimes, medications may be required to ease the pain and inflammation associated with sciatica. Both steroids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can be used to relieve the pain, along with muscle relaxants and pain killers. But such medications can provide only temporary relief. A more permanent result can be achieved with the help of physical therapy and exercises, that can minimize the frequency of future flare-ups.
Regular physical activity can play a vital role in strengthening the muscles of the abdomen and the back. Stretching exercises and back exercises are ideal for patients of sciatica. They can also practice some low-intensity aerobic exercises like swimming. Such exercises can increase the secretion of endorphins, the neurochemicals that can be termed as body’s natural analgesics or pain killers.
But if the pain is associated with some serious medical conditions, like a herniated disc, then spinal surgery may be required. Physicians generally consider this treatment option when the pain does not subside within six to twelve weeks, and when the patient experiences progressive weakness in the legs, along with bowel or bladder incontinence.
So, the treatment of this condition depends on the underlying causes and the severity of the pain. Initially, some non-surgical treatment options, like oral medications and exercises are recommended by physicians. But if these fail to produce the expected result, then surgery can be required to address the underlying causes, and provide permanent relief.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be replaced for the advice of a medical professional.