What is sciatica?
Sciatica is a health condition in which one experiences radiating pain running down from the lower back to the feet. Pain may occur on either side of the leg and it is not necessary that lower back pain exists in all cases of sciatica. The pain’s nature is shooting pain, which dynamically runs through the nerve root.
In medical terms, sciatica is a nerve abnormality that occurs when one or more lumbar nerves become compressed. Our spinal discs are made up of cartridges separated by a gooey center and an opening for the nerve pathways. This structure makes sure that pressuring the bone is not possible, but due to many reasons such as accidents, it may jerk the structure, thereby pressurizing the nerves running between them. This is what is known as herniation, and when spinal discs are herniated, it can be very painful.
Symptoms of Sciatica
Any of the symptoms that are mentioned below may be clear indications that you are suffering from sciatica. If any of the symptoms persist, seek medical advice to prevent the condition from worsening.
- Shooting pain that runs through the nerve right from the lower back down to the legs almost reaching the feet. The sciatic nerve runs down through the buttocks to the leg, so the entire region may hurt. You might feel discomfort in any part of the nerve path, but most likely, it will run down the whole path.
- Prolonged sitting tends to aggravate the pain. The pain can range from mild to excruciatingly sharp, and sometimes you might even feel an electric jolt pass through. On top of this, when you have a cold and you sneeze or cough, the pain might worsen.
- In a number of cases, there are symptoms such as tingling sensations, numbness, and weakness of the muscles felt around the leg or foot. You can also experience pain and numbness in alternate legs.
- Sometimes, the pain is not constant, but irritating, making movements like standing up and walking difficult.
- The pain can spike after a high-intensity injury such as an accident.
- Controlling your bowels or bladder may become difficult with sciatica.
What are the causes of sciatica?
- Spinal disc herniation or undue force applied to the societal nerve could lead to sciatica. These causes account for about 90 percent of cases. Sciatica caused this way can heal faster.
- Lumbar spinal stenosis is also a leading cause associated with sciatica. It is a condition in which the space between the spinal canal and the spinal cord reduces, causing a pressure on the spinal cord. This could occur due to various reasons such as bone spurs, inflammation, or a herniated disc, which decreases available space for the spinal cord, which in turn irritates the nerve.
- In the majority of people, the sciatic nerve passes through the piriformis muscle. When the length of the muscle reduces or when there is muscle spasm due to an injury or overuse, it pressures the sciatic nerve. This is how piriformis syndrome can cause sciatica.
- During pregnancy, the fetus might apply pressure leading to compression of the sciatic nerve, particularly while sitting or when leg spasms occur. Pregnancy-induced sciatica might not cause any direct harm, but numbing of the legs could lead to an imbalance causing falls. This type of sciatica has no standard treatment.
- Tumors or cauda equina syndrome can also cause sciatica.
- Other things that may make your back pain worse include being overweight, sedentary lifestyle, regular use of high heels, or sleeping on very soft mattresses that do not provide support to the back.
- Trauma that directly impacts the spine as seen in cases of road accidents or serious falls may also lead to sciatica.
Who is likely to have sciatica?
There are many factors that put individuals at risk of developing sciatica, and they include:
- Aging: Aging results in many biological and physical changes, which include changes in the spine that can cause herniated disks and bone spurs. These are the most common causes of sciatica.
- Obesity: We live in an era where obesity is rising day by day. Obesity has many ill effects on the health of a person and has been seen as one of the causes of sciatica. Sciatica occurs in obese people because there is a certain amount of weight applied to the spinal cord, which triggers structural changes and thereby puts pressure on the sciatic nerve.
- Occupational Hazard: Sciatica also occurs in the form of an occupational hazard, especially in jobs that often require you to twist your back, carry heavy loads, or drive a motor vehicle for long periods. This risk factor, however, cannot be completely validated.
- Sedentary Lifestyle: People who have a sedentary lifestyle or people who sit for long periods of time are also at the risk of developing sciatica compared to active people.
- Diabetes: It is a metabolic disease that can have an effect on someone's nerves. Thus, there is a possible risk of the sciatic nerve being affected in the same way.
How is sciatica diagnosed?
Sciatica can be self-diagnosed, but professional advice can properly identify your condition. Such professionals may also adopt the following methods to determine your condition:
- Straight Leg Test: A straight leg test is often helpful in diagnosing a herniated disc around the lumbar region.
- Physical Examination: The main diagnosis of sciatica is done by a routine physical check-up and by understanding the patient's history. Normally, people complain of an intense pain that starts in one leg, and there are some neurological symptoms that can confirm sciatica.
- Imaging Scans: Certain scans and imaging tests such as an MRI are often recommended to diagnose lumbar disc herniation.
How is sciatica treated?
Medications are often prescribed to treat sciatica, although there is not much benefit one can get from pain medications in this case. There is also little or no evidence that proves the effectiveness of using opioids and muscle relaxants. Botulinum toxin injections are found exceptionally helpful in reducing pain for those suffering from sciatica due to piriformis syndrome. There is also little evidence to prove that steroids are helpful.
Some people resort to surgery as a solution, especially for unilateral sciatica. When surgery is performed, a part of the disc is removed. This process is known as a discectomy. While surgery has its short-term advantages, the long-term benefits are only seen with conservative care. Alternative medicine includes spinal manipulation, especially for acute sciatica.
The pain accompanying sciatica is very excruciating. Other than painkillers, you can also adopt some stretching exercises or even some yoga exercises to relieve yourself from the pain.