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Sciatica is often described as a severe pain starting from the lower back and radiating into the thigh and lower leg. The painful sensation typically traces the sciatic nerve, which arises from the lower part of the spine and runs along the back of the leg. Pinching of the nerve or any irritation to it can cause inflammation that results in sciatica.
Sciatica doesn’t always manifest as pain; a tingling sensation or numbness in the legs, sometimes associated with weakness, may be the most common symptoms. But when pain is present, it is usually severe, deep, and debilitating, and comparable to a toothache in sharpness. That’s why sciatica prompts people to reach out for over-the-counter painkillers and specially prescribed anti-inflammatory, including steroids or readily opt for surgery.
Unfortunately, drugs taken for sciatic nerve pain only offer temporary relief. Sciatica is not a disease in itself; it is a symptom of an underlying problem. Even surgery doesn’t guarantee a permanent cure unless the specific problem can be corrected. The good news is that you can try these home remedies to get an upper hand over sciatica. But before you try them, make sure your condition is really sciatica. A few other disease conditions affecting the pelvic area may precipitate similar symptoms, so they have to be ruled out first or treated appropriately.
Definitive tests to confirm sciatica are mainly imaging tests such as X-ray, Ultrasound, MRI scan and CT scan, which may show bone spurs or herniated discs that pinch the nerve roots. Another useful test is Electromyography (EMG), which measures the electrical impulses from the nerves and the muscular response to them. Apart from these, your physician may do a physical examination, assessing the strength of your muscles and looking for specific reflex reactions.
If walking on the toes or lifting the leg while lying flat on your back and keeping it above a 300 angle causes pain, especially on one leg, it is almost certain that the pain and numbness is due to sciatica. However, if you find your symptoms to be progressive or involves bladder or bowel problems, you should seek medical attention. Your physician can rule out infections or tumors that could cause sciatica symptoms.
What causes sciatica?
The lumbar region of the spine is that curved section at the lower back, so it practically supports the weight of the upper body and bears almost all the strain from balancing it on two feet. That’s why this area is prone to slipped or herniated discs , which, in turn, can compress the nerves coming out of them.
The sciatic nerve is the thickest and longest pair of nerves in the body; it is a combination of several spinal nerves coming out of the lumbar and sacral part of the backbone. So, any problem––be it an injury or compression––that affects these lumbar and sacral nerves, as well as the sciatic nerve can cause sciatica.
Herniated vertebral disc – The disc between the lumbar vertebrae can herniate and pinch the nerve root or the soft material inside the disc can ooze out and causing irritation to the nerve.
Disc degeneration – Natural aging can cause some amount of degeneration, but degenerative disc disease can affect even younger people. This condition causes excessive movement of the spine at the site, resulting in nerve compression and injury.
Bone spurs – These are bony extensions created by the body in response to disc degeneration. While the intention is to minimize the excessive movement and strengthen the joint with additional tissue, the spurs hardened with calcification irritate the nerves involved.
Spondylolisthesis – This refers to sliding of a vertebra over the one below it. Usually occurring in the lumbosacral part of the spine, this misalignment can pinch and squeeze the nerve roots. This is more often seen in sports requiring excessive straining such as weightlifting and gymnastics, but small fractures in the vertebrae due to other reasons also can cause spondylolisthesis.
Identify your problem area
The sciatic nerve is formed from 5 sets of spinal nerves coming from the lumbar and sacral part of the spine, more specifically, L4, L5, S1, S2, and S3. Since the nerves arising from the lumbar region play a major role in the neuromuscular function of the lower limbs, problems in the area are immediately reflected in the thighs, knees as well as the lower part of the legs and feet.
Common symptoms of sciatica according to the location of the injury:
L4 nerve root
L4 nerve root exits from the space between L4 and L5 vertebrae. Compression of this nerve from L4 slipping over L5 or herniation of the disc between the two can cause sciatic pain or numbness in the lower back area as well as in the medial lower leg and foot of the affected side.
L5 nerve root
L5 nerve root comes out from between the last lumbar vertebra (L5) and the first sacral vertebra (S1). This is one of the most commonly injured nerve roots because of the greater range of motion at this joint. Since L5 is associated with the muscles that help raise the foot as well as the big toe, numbness or pain is often felt at the top of the foot on the affected side.
S1 nerve root
The five vertebrae that constitute the sacral portion of the spine are fused in adults to form a large triangular bone structure called sacrum. S1 nerve root is the most likely to be affected by compression or injury in this section. Since this nerve supplies the large muscle in the back of the calf, weakness in the legs and difficulty in foot pushing are common symptoms. Numbness is often felt on the outer side of the foot. You may find it hard to walk on tiptoes and to raise the heel off the ground when you walk.
Piriformis syndrome is not exactly sciatica, but it produces symptoms similar to these. Commonly seen in athletes training for sports, it is a result of the overexerted piriformis muscle compressing the sciatic nerve. Drastic changes in posture due to some reason, such as pregnancy for instance, also can put a strain on the lower back and precipitate symptoms similar to sciatica.
Although sciatic pain can be extremely severe and unbearable, one consolation is that the spinal cord does not extend to the lumbar spine. So this condition is not likely to result in paralysis or lead to serious damage of a permanent nature. Small consolation it may be, but it is quite a relief to know that, especially when you want to try some of the home remedies below.
Sciatic remedies that help:
1. Discontinue gym workouts
Exercise is a good thing, but not strenuous workouts, especially when your sciatic nerve is under stress. Many gym equipment restrict the natural moving patterns of our body. Repetitive movements with gym equipment can further strain your lower back and aggravate inflammation. Even upper body exercises can put extra strain on the lower back, particularly lifting weights. Substitute gym workouts with natural activities like walking, running and swimming.
2. Do stretching exercises
Sciatica pain may dissuade you from stretching the lower back and the legs but gently performed stretching exercises may bring you pain relief. It may even help resolve the underlying problem. Gentle stretching can relieve the stress on the Piriformis muscle and the hamstring, thereby relieving sciatica-like symptoms. As a matter of fact, it has been found that almost 80% of sciatica cases are Piriformis syndrome.
3. Practice Yoga
Yoga is commonly seen as a series of convoluted poses. It is a holistic system of stretching the body to increase flexibility and correct faulty postures that cause spinal problems. More importantly, it is a form of body-mind meditation, which helps relieve mental and physical stress at the same time. Specific yoga poses (asanas) such as Kandharasana (shoulder pose), marjariasana (cat stretch pose), dhanurasana (bow pose), Vyaghrasana (tiger pose), and garudasana (eagle pose) are recommended for sciatica relief.
4. Use a natural pain reliever
When there’s pain in a particular body part, our movements involving that area become limited or extremely awkward. This can be counterproductive when it comes to sciatica. Moving the affected leg and the lower back region helps increase blood circulation and accelerate healing.
Painkillers are usually prescribed for sciatica, but you can try some natural remedies instead. Devil’s Claw is highly recommended for lower back pain. The iridoid glycosides in this herbal extract, especially harpagoside, have a strong anti-inflammatory effect. Ginger tea and turmeric milk are also excellent anti-inflammatory agents. Take a look at these 10 Potent Foods That Kill Pain Fast…
5. Get deep massage
Deep massage tracing the path of the sciatic nerve brings relief, although it may be temporary until the actual problem is resolved. You should ideally have a qualified masseuse who knows the right technique. Even a light massage by a partner can help you relax and, maybe help improve your sleep as well.
6. Go for acupuncture sessions
This Chinese technique is reportedly very effective in resolving sciatica. It is said to stimulate the tissues, getting the body to release endorphins, serotonin, and other beneficial substances involved in nerve signaling to bring about immediate change. Inflammation is reduced by activating immunomodulatory pathways. At the same, it is credited with increasing lumbar circulation and promoting healing of the affected nerve.
7. Perform acupressure
Acupuncture requires skilled practitioners, but acupressure can be performed by almost anyone as long as the correct pressure points are known. When pain is severe, this knowledge could be the handiest. The points are distributed on the foot, knee and butt; at GB 30, 34, 40, and 41, to be more specific.
8. Try Rolfing
This is a technique called ‘Structural Integration’ developed by Ida P. Rolf to resolve deep-lying problems by manipulating the connective tissue layer called fascia. This ‘skin beneath the skin’ envelops the whole body, so stimulating it is claimed to affect our energy field and bring about healing. Whether or not you subscribe to this alternative ideology, often branded as pseudoscience, many people with sciatica claim that it helped them. It’s a set of 10 sessions, so if you have and access to a rolfer, it’s not a bad idea to try if it works for you.
9. Apply hot and cold compresses
The origin of sciatic pain may be deep in the tissues, but heat can relax tensed muscles that exacerbate the condition. Alternating heat and cold contrast therapy is a proven way to relieve pain and swelling. It is debatable whether this effect is from alternating vasodilatation and constriction pumping up circulation or just the sharp sensory contrast bringing pain relief.
At the beginning of a sciatica episode, it’s better to use cold compresses. Apply a cold pack for 15-20 minutes at a time and repeat after a half hour. If the pain persists more than two days, use alternating hot and cold compresses. Moist heat has been found to be most effective.
10. Wear abdominal support
Specially designed lumbosacral belts can offer extra support for the lower back area. Use it whenever you’re engaged in any activity that requires bending and lifting weights.
11. Get a firm chair and mattress
Sitting for long periods should be avoided, but it is just as important to maintain the right posture and the even support for you back and butt. Chairs with contoured and soft seats offer uneven support, so opt for straight-backed chairs with firm, flat cushions. Shifting to a firm mattress or sleeping on a wooden board has been known to relieve sciatic pain for a number of patients. It doesn’t hurt to try.
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