How Do You Know If You Have Sciatica?
By: Dr. Brice Neff DC
You’ve likely heard others discussing sciatica, done some research online, and even identified yourself with the symptoms. That said, do you truly have it? It’s time to find out. Let’s discuss sciatica.
What Is Sciatica?
If you’re one of the many people who suffer from sciatica, known medically as lumbar radiculopathy, then you know just how painful and disabling it can be. This excruciating condition occurs when pain radiates down your legs along the path of the sciatic nerve that stretches from your lower back to hips and buttocks, typically only on one side. Studies reveal an estimated 10-40% of individuals have experienced this at some point in their lives.
Sciatica pain is caused when one of the nerves at the base of your spine becomes compressed, sending an unpleasant signal to your brain that registers as throbbing discomfort. Additionally, you may sense numbness or a prickling sensation in your backside and lower leg.
Causes of Sciatica
Sciatica can be caused by a multitude of factors; however, the most frequent source is due to a herniated or slipped disc that compresses one of your nerve roots. This happens when the cushioning center protrudes from between two vertebrae. Additionally, sciatica may also arise from wear and tear on our spines known as degenerative disc disease which could lead to spinal stenosis, ultimately putting pressure on our sciatic nerves.
One of the main reasons for sciatica is osteoarthritis, a disorder where bone and cartilage break down. If this condition affects your spine, it can cause sciatic nerve pain. Additionally, if you experience trauma to the lumbar spine or surrounding nerves or have tumors in that area as well, then numbing sensations and/or discomfort may follow suit.
Signs and Symptoms of Sciatica
The main symptoms of sciatica include:
- Pain that begins in your lower back and radiates down one leg weakness in one or both legs
- Tingling or pins and needles in your foot
- Numbness in one leg
- Loss of bladder and/or bowel control
Diagnosing Of Sciatica
To assess your condition, your doctor will inquire about any pain, numbness, or weakness in the legs as well as its severity. Then they’ll conduct a physical exam to find out which nerve is behind these symptoms; this could involve you squatting, walking on heels and toes, lunging, or raising one leg while lying down. In some cases, if sciatica is suspected then an x-ray, CT, or MRI scan may be ordered for further evaluation of a herniated disc.
Treatments For Sciatica
If left untreated, this condition can linger for months and leave you feeling more uncomfortable. Fortunately, the goal of treatment is always to reduce pain and make life easier for those who suffer from it. For mild cases, several self-care treatments can be done at home; however, your doctor may prescribe rest as a way to alleviate any discomfort or pain caused by sciatica. A few self-care treatments are:
- Applying hot or cold packs to the areas of pain.
- Taking over-the-counter (OTC) medications to reduce pain and swelling. Commonly, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are recommended.
- Performing some gentle stretches to strengthen your muscles and relieve tension in your lower back area. Some of the best stretches include the yoga aphid posture, the cobra pose, and the press-up position.
- Regular exercise to prevent aggravating the compression nerve even further through immobilization. Exercising should not feel painful. If it does, you might need to try other mobilization or stretching movements to help relieve tension around the nerve root first.
What To Do If You Think You Have Sciatica
Here are some of the treatment options that will be offered by your doctor.
- Prescription medications to relieve pain and reduce inflammation.
- Physical therapy to decrease muscle tension and improve muscle flexibility to reduce pressure on the nerve. Your physical therapist may prescribe a range of exercises, including walking, swimming, and stretching or stability movements.
- Spinal injections of corticosteroid to reduce pain and swelling around the affected nerves. The number of injections you need will depend on your circumstances.
If you’re trying to find relief from pain, alternative therapies such as acupuncture, deep tissue massage, and yoga are worth considering in addition to traditional methods. All of these options can be effective in reducing discomfort.
If your at-home self-care measures have failed to offer you relief after a few weeks, it’s time to seek out more advanced treatments. Consulting with an experienced healthcare professional is the best way to identify which treatment option will be most beneficial for treating your symptoms and alleviating any pain or discomfort.