Sciatica is a condition where pain radiates along the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is the longest as well as the largest nerve in the body. The nerve starts at the base of the spinal cord and goes down from the buttocks down into both the legs. The thickness of the nerve can be compared to that of the little finger. There are various causes of the sciatica pain. Most people describe this condition as 'pain running down the leg, especially at the back of the leg'. The most common characteristics of sciatica is the pain, which is felt only on one side in the lower body. Although it is said to be a medical condition, as a matter of fact, it points to another underlying medical problem, which needs to be treated.
The main cause of sciatica is damage caused to the sciatic nerve or due to pressure exerted on the sciatic nerve. Irritation to the sciatic nerve can also cause the condition. Disc herniation in the lumbar region of the spine exerts pressure on the sciatic nerve and give rise to the sciatica. If the sciatic nerve is pinched (which can be caused either due to disc herniation or due to injury), it will be irritated, resulting in inflammation of the nerve. The other causes of sciatica are:
- Sitting or standing for an extended period of time
- Bad posture
- Lack of muscle movement causing the muscles to constrict
- Adjoining bone irritating the nerve
- Tumors around the sciatic nerve
- If pressure is exerted on the sciatic nerve during pregnancy
- Internal bleeding around the sciatic nerve
- Lumbar spinal stenosis narrowing the spinal canal, which causes sciatic nerve to be compressed.
- Piriformis syndrome
- Any activity which puts pressure on the spine
- Being overweight
- Wearing heels for long periods
- Slipping of a vertebra over the other, pressurizes the sciatic nerve causing sciatica
The most common sign and symptom of sciatica is pain in the lower extremities of the body. The pain often starts at the base of the spine and routing downwards to the pelvic region, buttocks, thighs, back of the legs and foot. It may be seen that simple and regular day-to-day activities may be hindered because of the pain. The pain may be accompanied by a tingling sensation. A burning sensation may be felt along with the pain. Numbness that can vary in intensity, weakness in the affected leg and difficulty in moving the leg may also be observed. Depending on the condition for some people the condition may be debilitating and severe, while for some people the pain may be intermittent, however there always is the risk of the pain going spiraling.
Sciatica treatment should only be carried out by a trained health professional. The first step in treating sciatica is to find out the root cause of the condition. Depending on the cause of the condition, the line of treatment will differ. In the initial stages, anti-inflammatory and analgesics are given to the patient to suppress the pain and discomfort. Besides anti-inflammatory medication and analgesics, exercise is also prescribed under the care of a physiotherapist, when the condition is not severe.
As the type of exercise depends on the cause of sciatic pain they must be done after consultation and practiced on a regular basis, twice a day to provide complete relief from pain. Some of the exercises, which prove to be of help in treating the condition are:
- Piriformis stretch
- Core strengthening exercises
- Hamstring stretches
- Downward facing dog
- Bridge pose
- Lower body twists
Though bed rest may seem like the better option, inactivity results in the muscles degenerating further and exercising them makes them more mobile by boosting circulation and helps to adequately carry the fluids and nutrients across the system. Minding the body posture and avoiding soft surfaces that encourage slouching must be a part of treatment. Being in the same position for long or lifting things puts strains on the spinal cord as well as the muscles in the hips and legs thus such positions must also be avoided.
In severe cases of sciatica, operation may be required to treat the condition. Thus, it becomes very important to diagnose the real cause of sciatica in order to rule out the possibility of another serious health ailment which could require immediate attention and/or surgery. It is best to consult a doctor immediately in order to diagnose the problem correctly and ensure that appropriate steps are taken or this could develop into a grave problem.