Sciatica is the pain that is often felt in the lower back region, and the back of the thigh and the leg. The pain is caused by the irritation or compression of the sciatic nerve. The various treatment options for this condition are discussed in this article, along with its causes and symptoms.
The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve of our body that originates in the lower back region, and then runs through the buttock and the leg. The irritation or compression of this nerve often produces a sharp pain that radiates from the lower back region to the leg, which is called sciatica. However, this term is often used indiscriminately to refer to any pain that radiates to the leg or the lower limb, whether or not caused by the pinching of the sciatic nerve.
Causes and Symptoms
Any condition that compresses the sciatic nerve can cause sciatica. Such conditions can include certain spinal disorders, like degenerative disc diseases, lumbar herniated disc, isthmic spondylolisthesis, and lumbar spinal stenosis.
Piriformis syndrome (where spasm of the piriformis muscle compresses the sciatic nerve), spinal tumor, sciatic nerve tumor, and a trauma or injury to the nerve roots of the lumbar region, can also cause this pain. However, it has been observed that sometimes mild factors like muscle sprain, wrong posture, and excessive body weight due to obesity or pregnancy can put pressure on the sciatic nerve, and cause mild and occasional pain in the lower back region and the leg.
The pain caused by the compression of the sciatic nerve generally begins on one side of the lower back region, and then radiates down to the back of the thigh and the leg. This is the most common symptom of this condition. Sometimes, the pain can be accompanied by numbness and a tingling sensation as well. Some people can also experience pain in the foot and the toes. For some, the pain is mild and infrequent, while for others it can be an excruciating pain.
To find out the exact causes of sciatica, several diagnostic tests like X-ray, CT scan, MRI scan, and electromyogram are carried out. Basically, all the treatment options available for this condition can be categorized into two types – non-surgical treatment and surgical treatment.
The non-surgical treatment options include, rest, the application of cold or hot pack, pain killers, and physical therapy. Physicians usually recommend rest for mild pain, which often subsides on its own. A simple home remedy like ice or hot pack can also be used for pain relief. If applied within the first 48 hours, these can reduce the pain and the associated inflammation considerably.
However, severe pain may require immediate relief, for which pain killers or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and muscle relaxants can be required. If these measures fail to ease the pain, then corticosteroid injections may be recommended by a physician.
However, all these treatment options can provide only temporary relief and cannot address the root causes of the problem. If sciatica is associated with some major medical conditions like spinal stenosis or herniated disc, then it can recur. This highlights the importance of detecting, as well as addressing the underlying causes.
The frequency of the nerve pain can be controlled to a great extent with the help of physical therapy, which is often considered one of the best treatment options for this condition. Regular physical activities or exercises can help a lot in strengthening the muscles of the back and the abdomen, and correct the posture of an individual. So, physical activity is the key to manage the pain caused by the compression of the sciatic nerve.
However, you should try only the gentle exercises at the beginning. Walking and gentle stretching and back exercises are generally recommended for the treatment and management of the sciatic nerve pain. Even low-intensity aerobic exercises can prove helpful in managing the pain. Before starting physical therapy, be sure to consult your physician or a health care professional.
Surgery can be required for treating this condition, if all the other treatment options fail to prevent its recurrences, and the pain caused by the condition is also worsening. It can also be required when the patient is experiencing bowel or bladder incontinence, along with progressive weakness in the leg. Such a situation generally arises, when sciatica is caused by conditions like a slipped disc.
Surgery involves the removal of a small part of the herniated disc to reduce the pressure that it places on the sciatic nerve. This procedure is known as discectomy. Another surgical treatment is laminectomy, where the spinal cord is widened to reduce the pressure on the sciatic nerve.
Some of these treatment options can provide only temporary relief, while others aim at giving permanent relief by addressing the underlying causes. So, for the proper treatment of sciatica, it is important is to find out the root causes. In the meantime, physical therapy can provide considerable relief, and many times helps prevent its frequent flare-ups.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for professional medical advice.