Understanding Sciatica: Causes, Symptoms & Treatments
Sciatica refers to pain which occurs in the sciatic nerve – the nerve which runs from the lower back into each leg. Sciatica usually happens when the nerve is pinched. For the most part, sciatica only affects one side of the body at a given time.
Sciatica is not a stand-alone medical condition on its own, but is a symptom which is caused by a problem with the sciatic nerve. Not everyone will need medical care for sciatica.
Sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve is pinched, damaged, or irritated, and can happen for a number of reasons.
Common causes include:
- Herniated (slipped) disc
- Lumbar spinal stenosis
- Degenerative disc disease
- Ruptured intervertebral disc
- Piriformis syndrome
- Injury to the pelvis
It’s also possible for sciatica to have no determinable cause, and the pain will go away on its own with time.
Many cases of sciatica will not require medical attention. In more severe cases, it is important to determine and treat the original cause of sciatic pain since sciatica is a symptom of another problem.
When to See a Doctor
Sciatic pain varies widely between people. Some may feel a mild tingling or ache, while others may find it difficult to even move.
See a doctor as soon as possible if you experience:
- Unintentional or sudden weight loss
- Fever with back pain
- Severe pain which makes moving or staying still uncomfortable
- Blood in urine and/or burning with urination
- Loss of control of bowels (incontinence)
- Redness or swelling around the spine
- Back pain which has lasted for more than four weeks
- Back pain following an accident or injury
- Numbness or weakness in the legs, buttocks, or pelvis
Only you know how you feel. It’s generally recommended for you to visit your primary care doctor if your symptoms persist for a month or longer.
At-Home Treatments for Sciatica
Severe cases of sciatica may require medical attention, depending on the cause. Mild sciatica usually goes away on its own and can be treated at home.
Home treatment tips:
- Use over-the-counter painkillers to reduce pain. Anti-inflammatory painkillers are helpful to reduce swelling.
- Use heat and ice packs. For the first 48 hours, place ice on the affected area at 10 – 20 minute intervals with breaks in between applications. This will help any swelling and reduce pain. After 48 hours, you can incorporate heat packs into the routine to relax your muscles.
- Physical therapy may be recommended by your doctor to build strength in your abdomen and improve your flexibility.
- Reduce your activity level for several days, then gradually build back up to your usual routine
- Exercise and include some back-stretching exercises to strengthen your back and improve flexibility. Avoid bouncing during your stretches, and hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds.
- Avoid twisting your back or lifting heavy objects for up to two months after the pain has begun
- Bed rest is not generally recommended
- Pain worsens when lying down
Speak with your doctor if you are experiencing severe or chronic pain. Nerve pain can be difficult to treat, depending on the cause, and may require injections or surgery to reduce symptoms.
Depending on the cause, it’s not always possible to prevent sciatica. By promoting good back health, however, most people can reduce the chances of developing back problems.
- Exercise! Not only is exercise good for your overall health, it’s a great way to keep your back muscles strong and healthy.
- Incorporate stretching into your daily routine. Stretching is a good way to keep your muscles flexible.
- Maintain good posture while sitting. This is especially important if you sit regularly at your job. Likewise, get up and stretch if you sit at a desk for multiple hours during the day.
- If your job requires heavy lifting, always remember to lift from your knees, not your back. Hold heavy items close to your body.
- Invest in a mattress or mattress topper which helps you maintain good sleeping posture throughout the night.
Practicing good spine health habits now will reduce your chances of developing spinal problems later.
Sciatica Experts at Florida Medical Clinic
If you are suffering from back pain, Florida Medical Clinic’s Department of Orthopaedic Surgery can help. We are experienced in diagnosing and treating all types of back-related pain and injuries, ranging from trauma to tumors and more. Our goal is to relieve our patients’ pain and restore their quality of life. Make an appointment today!