Sciatica denotes the pain that radiates from the sciatic nerve which branches from the lower back, through the hips, buttocks, and down each leg. This condition commonly occurs when a herniated disk or bone spur on the spine compresses the nerve. It can also be caused by a tumor or a disease like diabetes. The condition causes inflammation, pain, and sometimes numbness down the affected leg. Although the pain can be excruciating, most cases can be resolved using conservative treatments over a period of weeks. Those who continue to experience pain can be helped through surgery to relieve the pressure on the nerve.
Pain that emits from the lumber (lower) region of the spine to the buttock and down the back of the leg is the classic symptom of sciatica. Pain may be felt anywhere along the nerve pathway but most commonly is felt from the lower back to the buttock and back of the thigh and calf. The pain can vary widely from a mild ache to a sharp, burning sensation to severe pain. It can feel like an electric shock or a jolt of pain. It usually affects only one side of the body and it may feel worse when you sit for a long while or when you sneeze or cough.
Some people also experience numbness on one side of the body. Others feel pain in one area and numbness in another.
Mild sciatica usually goes away with time and patience. If your symptoms are severe, last longer than a few weeks, or become progressively worse, then you need to contact your doctor. Get immediate attention if you experience sudden, severe pain in the lower back or leg and numbness or muscle weakness in the leg. Also if the pain follows a violent injury like a car accident, or you have trouble controlling your bowels or bladder, seek medical attention.
There are several risk factors that play a role in who is likely to contract sciatica:
- Age – changes in the spine that are age-related, such as herniated disks and bone spurs on the spine, are the most common causes of sciatica.
- Obesity – this condition increases the stress put on the spine. Therefore, significant weight increase causing changes in the spine may trigger sciatica.
- Occupation – a job that requires twisting of the back, carrying heavy loads, or driving motor vehicles for long periods of time may increase the chances of getting sciatica. However, at this time there is no conclusive evidence of this.
- Prolonged sitting – those who sit for long periods of time or have a sedentary lifestyle are more prone to develop sciatica that those with an active lifestyle.
- Diabetes – this condition, which affects how your body uses blood sugar, increases the chances of getting sciatica.
HOME REMEDIES AND ALTERNATIVE TREATMENTS
Most people recover from sciatica, especially is they return to their normal activities but avoid whatever it was that triggered the condition in the first place. Although resting for a day or two may provide some relief, prolonged inactivity will only make your pain and symptoms worse. Here are some self-help treatments that may be beneficial:
- Cold packs – Initially, you may get relief from a cold pack placed on the painful area for about 20 minutes, several times a day.
- Hot packs – After two or three days, apply heat packs to the affected areas. You can use a heating pad, a heat lamp, or hot packs. Sometimes alternating hot and cold packs does the trick.
- Stretching – Sometimes stretching helps you feel better and helps relieve the nerve root compression. Do not jerk, twist, or bounce around when stretching. Try to have slow, follow-through motions and try to hold the stretch for 30 seconds.
- Over-the-counter medications – Sometimes ibuprofen and naproxen (Aleve) are helpful to relieve pain.
- Acupuncture – Some studies suggest that acupuncture can have benefits for those suffering with sciatica while others do not claim any benefits. If you decide to try acupuncture, be sure to seek out a licensed practitioner who has had sufficient training in this treatment option.
- Chiropractic – Spinal adjustment (manipulation) is one form of therapy that chiropractors use to treat limited spinal mobility. The goal is to restore spinal movement and, as a result, decrease pain and improve function. Spinal manipulation appears to be a safe and effective treatment for lower back pain.
It’s not always possible to prevent sciatica and the condition can re-occur but there are several tips that can help protect the back:
- Exercise regularly – This is probably the best thing you can do to help prevent this condition. Try to focus on the core muscles. Ask your doctor about certain ones that can especially help the back.
- Maintain proper posture when you sit – Choose a seat with good lower back support, arm rests, and a swivel seat. Consider placing a rolled towel where the small of your back is to maintain its natural curve.
- Use good body mechanics – If you have to stand for long periods of time, rest one foot on a small box or stool from time to time. When you lift, use the leg muscles instead of the back. Keep the back straight and lift straight up or straight down with the legs, bending only at the knees.
Avoiding sciatica can be possible by maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle. Employing the prevention tips described above can help prevent the condition. If you are experiencing sciatica, be sure to try the helpful home remedies. If the pain is severe, contact your doctor.
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