Sciatica: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments & Exercises
If you have ever experienced sciatica, then you know that it can be a painful and even a debilitating condition, even if it only lasts for a few days. Fortunately, there is a great deal of research and knowledge regarding this condition, including valuable advice on the causes, symptoms, potential treatments and invaluable home remedies for sciatica.
Table of Contents
What is Sciatica?
Sciatica refers to a localized pain in the lower back that may often extend down into one of the legs and through the buttocks. This throbbing sensation may be rapid and it fades quickly or could even remain present for weeks. In most cases, this strong, lancing pain will only affect one of your legs, but rarely both, due to the underlying cause of this condition.
The name is derived from the nerve that causes this pain, the sciatic nerve. When this nerve is impinged or impacted in some way, the pain will appear at some level of severity. For many people, the pain is only temporary, but recurring problems with sciatica are common, and often worse if they aren’t addressed or treated in some way. Due to the location of the pain, many people misdiagnose sciatica as a problem with the leg, whereas the actual nerve impingement is happening in the lower back. In some cases, the effects can even be felt at the foot and lower leg.
Causes of Sciatica
Sciatica is directly caused by pressure on the sciatic nerve, but this pressure can be the result of various reasons, such as muscle knots, herniated discs, piriformis muscle irritation, hamstring syndrome, joint dysfunction and posture problems, among others. The direct cause of sciatica can be difficult to diagnose, as the condition may be a combination of more than one factor.
Muscle Knots: Most of the sciatica conditions arise from the muscle knots in the lower back, which can cause pressure on the sciatic nerve. This could be caused by an excessive amount of exercise, muscle inflammation, bending or lifting in strange ways, or other common reasons behind charley horses or muscle cramping.
Posture Problems: If you regularly crouch or have poor back posture, you are putting excess strain on your lower back muscles, which can become inflamed and cause pressure on the sciatic nerve.
Pregnancy: Many women experience shooting pains down their legs and buttocks while pregnant, but this is a form of sciatica. The fetus causes excess pressure in the abdomen as certain organs and tissues move to accommodate in the womb. This will often result in a pressure on the trigger nerve, resulting in a shooting pain in either of the legs.
Muscle Spasms: Muscle spasms can be caused by everything from nutrient deficiency to an irritating injury, but these sorts of spasms can be unexpected and can cause kinks or strains in the back. Essentially, this results in another form of a muscle knot that is linked to sciatica.
Lumbar Spinal Stenosis: In this condition, the spinal canal narrows near the bottom of the back, causing the spinal nerves to be strangled in the lower back. This will lead to irritation and pain in the sciatic nerve.
Slipped Discs: Most people think this is the main cause of sciatica, but that isn’t true. When an intervertebral disc begins to slip out of its assigned location, it will squeeze through some gaps in the vertebrae and can press on the sciatic nerve. This is relatively uncommon, even if the disc herniates.
Hamstring Syndrome: In rare cases, the fibrotic bands can irritate the sciatic nerve and constrain it near, where the hamstring connects to the hips. This can result in a constant or a long-term pain and is difficult to treat.
Piriformis Muscle: Deep in the buttocks is the piriformis muscle, and it is located near the area where the sciatic nerve passes down to the legs. If the sciatic nerve and the piriformic muscle come in contact, or if the nerve actually grows through the muscle, sciatica symptoms are very high.
Symptoms of Sciatica
As briefly mentioned above, the most common symptoms of sciatica is a shooting pain in the buttocks and legs. The other common symptoms are numbness in the buttocks, weakness in the legs, lower back pain, hip pain and difficulty in standing up.
Leg Weakness: One of the most common symptoms of sciatica is a slight weakness or muscle impairment in the leg, as though your hamstring muscles aren’t working properly.
Hip Pain: Although the pain is typically located in the buttocks and legs, it can cause unusual walking patterns, which will result in inflammation in the tendons near the hips. It can be difficult to realize when you are walking slightly “off”, but hip pain is usually a good indicator.
Standing Up: You may find it difficult to stand up if you are suffering from sciatica, as this type of nerve pain can weaken the contraction abilities of the legs, so standing for long periods could be painful, as can the act of rising from a sitting position.
Lower Back Pain: Mild lower back pain is not uncommon with sciatica, and may be one of the first indications that the nerve is being impinged, even before the effects are felt lower in the legs and buttocks.
Numbness: You may feel a numbness in the back of your thighs or buttocks, or a tingling in the toes and feet.
Treatments for Sciatica
Given how common sciatica is in the population, a number of viable treatment options have been developed. The treatments include heat and cold therapy, painkillers, steroid injections, acupuncture, chiropractor realignments and massage.
Common pharmaceutical prescriptions for pain killers will help to mask the symptoms and make life more manageable, but the medications will not fully address the underlying problem.
These injections can strengthen the surrounding muscle and reduce inflammation in the lower back, but they cannot be administered too often.
Regular acupuncture treatments can help redirect energy flow and nerve impulses in the back, in addition to “untangling” muscle knots and relieve many of the common sciatica symptoms.
Chiropractors are often used to realign slipped disks and “adjust” the back, which can reduce tension and pressure on various nerves, keeping your spine straight and your legs pain-free.
Hot and Cold Therapy
Alternating hot and cold compresses on the spot of your sciatica pain can help the muscles adjust, the nerves be soothed, and generally reduce pain and swelling of your back.
Home Remedies for Sciatica
Many people prefer home remedies for sciatica, rather than injections, pharmaceuticals or formal treatments, such as turmeric, valerian root, fenugreek seeds and avoiding poor sleep positions and smoking cigarettes.
The anti-inflammatory properties of this herb, thanks to its active ingredient, curcumin, can be made into a paste and applied directly to the lower back, which can soothe sciatica pain.
Sleeping on an improper mattress, such as one that is either too hard or too soft, can lead to muscle tension and strain on the sciatic nerve.
Exercises for Sciatica
There are quite a few effective exercises that can relieve the pain of sciatica and strengthen the lower back, including spinal stretches, pigeon pose stretches, hamstring stretches, swimming and yoga. These are not only low-impact exercises, but also help to stretch the precise area of the back where the sciatic nerve splits and moves down into the legs. Improving flexibility here is invaluable in terms of preventing future sciatica attacks and soothing pain in the midst of a flare-up.