The sciatic nerve is actually the longest nerve in your body. Knowing that, you can probably figure that it’s not uncommon for the sciatic nerve to cause havoc when it’s irritated. The nerve generally gets “irritated” when there are conditions which cause swelling and/or pinching of the nerve at some point in the body.
People of all ages can suffer from sciatica pain. The pain can vary from light pain to completely debilitating and chronic pain in some cases. Pain can be felt anywhere down the body from the lower back to the feet. Basically, the pain can start and continue through the body in many different areas, depending upon where the swelling and pinching of the sciatic nerve is occurring.
Because of the size of the sciatic nerve it can be pinched, kinked, or swollen in any number of places. You may get sciatica once in your life, you might never get it, or you could suffer often and chronically from it. While there are similarities to most sciatica pain, there are also definite issues subject specifically to your body & where the nerve is being irritated. In most cases, while sciatic pain is very real and can be very painful, it can be treated with a variety of non-invasive methods. You should ALWAYS consult your physician if you get sciatic pain to make sure the pain isn’t caused by a major problem with the back or other medical issue. This may involve x-rays or MRI’s so your physician can see why you are having the pain.
Some Possible Causes of Sciatica Include:
- Slipped Disc(s) – this is the most common reason for sciatica
- Arthritis – the swelling from arthritis is the main cause
- Swollen muscles around the sciatic nerve that cause pinching or pressure & irritating the nerve. The medical term for this is Piriformis and can be quite common in people who run for exercise
- Stenosis (narrowing of the spinal nerve channel which can then compress either the sciatic nerve itself or cause bulging discs)
- Twisting or Injury to the back which causes the muscles to swell and pinch the sciatic nerve
- Cracked vertebra which can slide on top of vertebra below or what is referred to as Spondylolisthesis and common in people who have weak core muscles and poor posture
Generally icing the area that feels the pain is the first line of treatment. The intent is to reduce the swelling of the muscles and area that is causing the irritation of the sciatic nerve. Later you may switch to heat. Usually your body will know what it needs and you can tell immediately if you are getting the benefits of icing or heating simply by how good it feels on the area that hurts. Listen to your body, but generally icing is the first line of treatment with applying heat 24-48 hours after the onset of your pain. Your physician will tell you how to treat the painful areas and when to switch from ice to heat.
Your physician may also prescribe a steroid to reduce the swelling (depending upon how intense the pain & swelling may be).
Many times a simple over the counter anti-inflammatory medicine may be suggested by your doctor. Generally ibuprofen or aspirin can help reduce the swelling and decrease the pain. Do not medicate yourself. Seek professional advice as to what will work best for your situation.
Sometimes a tennis ball or baseball can help to ease the pain by placing it between you and the chair and putting pressure on the site of pain. Rolling the ball to massage the area and move or stretch out the muscles surrounding the nerve can often help. Your physician will suggest some stretches and massage techniques that you can do at home to help ease your pain and hopefully eliminate it.
A homeopathic or natural approach may include taking the spice Turmeric, which is known to help reduce inflammation and is available in capsules at many stores. Other homeopathic products that have been used for sciatica include Rhus Tox and Arnica along with a list of many other homeopathic products that may help. Some people find relief in using a product called Sombra which is a lotion or gel that is applied to the skin area for a warming relief. Consult your doctor or a homeopathic specialist to determine exactly what is safe and best for you.
Can You Avoid Getting Sciatica?
While there is no certainty that you won’t get sciatic pain there are certain things that can help decrease your chances of experiencing it.
- Maintain a healthy weight – this will lessen the stress on your back itself and decrease your chances of back issues in general, including sciatica.
- Strengthen your core muscles – strong muscles in your abdomen area or what is referred to as your “core” will strengthen your back muscles.
- Use caution when lifting – often sciatica will strike those who have jobs which entail a lot of bending and lifting. Try to lift properly, using your legs and not your back to carry the weight.
Ask your physician or physical therapist for exercises that you can do regularly at home that will stretch your muscles and promote overall good back health. If you are having sciatic pain exercising, even lightly, is usually recommend with certain techniques that will help stretch your body and hopefully unpinch that nerve. In most cases time will heal the pain and you will be back to your normal routine with minimal efforts. However, some people who have a weakened back or muscles in general may experience sciatica often and find that their physician will give them a course of action to follow to help them with the pain and hopefully reducing the number of times the sciatica occurs. In some severe cases physical therapy will be prescribed by your physician.
Remember, anytime you have back pain or pain stemming from the back area and down your body seek professional advice immediately. While sciatica can be very painful you usually can find a way to decrease your pain and stimulate your body so that the swelling goes down and the nerve is no longer irritated.
Dedicated To Your Health & Well-being (and safety),