Sciatica is commonly described as a radiating pain that travels along the sciatic nerve, which branches from your lower back through your hips and buttocks and down each leg. It can affect the areas on the outside, front, or back of either leg. It usually affects only one side, but occasionally it can affect both sides. Also, lower back pain is not always present, and numbness and weakness can occur in a few different areas of the affected leg or foot.
In about 90% of situations, sciatica happens as a result of spinal disc herniation that puts pressure on the lumbar or sacral nerve roots. Other conditions that can cause sciatica are listed below:
- Piriformis syndrome
- A bone spur
- Spinal stenosis
- Pelvic tumors
- Compression by a baby’s head during pregnancy
These conditions cause inflammation and pain including some type of numbness in the affected leg. Although sciatica pain is extreme at times, it usually resolves within a few weeks without needing surgical intervention.
- Pain that radiates from your lower spine to your lower buttocks and down the back of your leg
- Discomfort anywhere along the sciatic nerve pathway
- Pain is mostly felt in the low back through your buttocks and down the back of the thigh and calf
- Pain may be mild and achy or sharp and burning or even excruciating
- Sometimes the pain is compared to a jolt or electric shock
- Pain worsens when you cough or sneeze
- Sitting for a long time can make symptoms worse
- Usually, only one side of the body is affected
- Muscle weakness, tingling, or numbness is often felt
What Puts One at Risk for Developing Sciatica?
- Being overweight: Excess weight puts extra stress on the spine and leads to possible spinal changes that cause sciatica.
- Certain jobs: Certain jobs require you to twist your back, carry awkward loads, or drive for long periods, which can cause sciatica to develop.
- Your age: Changes that occur in the body due to age – herniated discs and bone spurs – are the most common reasons for sciatica to occur.
- Diabetes: This impacts the way your body uses blood sugar. This condition can increase your risk of nerve damage.
- Sitting for long periods of time: If you are living a sedentary lifestyle, it puts you at higher risk of sciatica.
A quick way to identify whether you are suffering from sciatica is by doing the straight-leg-raising test. This is done by lying on your back and raising the affected leg. If you experience shooting pain below the knee, then you have sciatica. A doctor may check your muscle strength and reflexes as well by asking you to walk on your toes or heels or to rise from a squatting position. Usually, medical imaging is not necessary unless bowel or bladder function is affected or there is a substantial loss of feeling or weakness.
Sciatica can usually be treated fairly easily with some simple at-home care. Some rest is good, but too much can actually worsen the condition since a sedentary lifestyle is among the list of things to avoid. Here are a few things that you can try to help reduce your pain:
- Stretching: Doing gentle stretching exercises for your lower back bring some relief and could ease up some of the compression that’s affecting the nerve roots. Avoid bouncing, twisting, or jerking while stretching and hold the stretch for 30 seconds if possible.
- Cold packs: When you start to feel pain, a cold pack put on the painful area for about 20 minutes a few times a day could help you feel better. It’s a good idea to wrap the cold pack or bag of frozen peas in a towel so that it’s not too cold on your skin.
- Hot packs: Once any swelling or inflammation has gone down, you can start to apply heat to the painful areas. Using hot packs, a heat lamp, or a heating pad on low are all good options to get you started. If the pain continues, it might be a good idea to alternate hot and cold.
Ways to Keep Sciatica Away
It’s not always possible to avoid sciatica, but there are several things you can practice that will reduce your risk of getting it.
- Exercise regularly: Develop and strengthen your core muscles to keep your back strong.
- Keep good posture while sitting: Check your seat for good lower back support, armrests, and a swivel base. Keeping your knees and hips level is another thing to be mindful of. An extra recommendation is using a rolled up towel to support the small of your back to help maintain its natural curve.
- Use good body mechanics: If you are required to stand for long periods of time, keep one foot on a stool or small box now and then. When doing any heavy lifting, use your legs to do the work instead of your back as you move straight up and down. Maintain a straight back and only bend at the knees. Avoid lifting or twisting, and get help whenever possible.
Sciatica Relief for Those Looking for a Natural Way
This may be difficult to believe at first, but sciatica pain could originate in the upper neck. The reason this can happen is because when the neck bones are even slightly misaligned, it can cause the spine to twist and shift, compensating for the weight of the head being off balance. This can result in complications throughout the spine, eventually irritating and pinching the nerves.
Here at Align Health and Wellness in Calgary, we use a gentle and precise method to encourage the bones of the neck to naturally realign. We do this without forcing the bones to pop or crack, which provides longer-lasting adjustments and gives the body more time to heal around the corrections. This is how the body is able to repair the damage that was caused by the misalignment. Upper cervical chiropractic care is how many of our patients have found relief for the pain of sciatica. If you would like to know more about how we can help you, call us for a free consultation.