Sciatica Causes, Symptoms, Treatment & Exercises

Commonly pronounced as ‘sigh-AT-is-ka,’ Sciatica is the debilitating back pain that radiates through your buttocks and goes down to one leg. The leg pain passes through your knees, causing weakness and limping in the leg and buttock muscles. The nerve pain is excruciating that may immobilize you.

According to many certified professionals and therapists, sciatic pain occurs due to several reasons. Spinal stenosis, or ruptured disc, in which spine canal narrows and injuries are some of the common causes. The hips and the lower back are the most affected body parts.

What is the Sciatic Nerve?

The largest nerves in your body that have a size of two little fingers are sciatic nerves. The nerves are the combination of two sacral nerves roots and lumbar nerves roots, joining in your lower part of spinal cord. Extending from the spinal column, these roots pass behind your hip joint, going down to the leg, ankle, and foot.

Sciatic pain is debilitating than other back pains, as it radiates from the back and travels down to the lower extremity. Feel more like a shooting pain; the nerve pain causes inflammation or tingle. It may feel like a sleeping limb. The pain ranges from annoying to excruciating level, where treatment is necessary. Some people experience numbness in one leg and pain in a specific part of the leg.

Causes of Sciatic Pain

As mentioned earlier, Sciatic can be caused by several various factors or conditions. The condition can affect your spine and the nerves extending from it and traveling back to your leg.

Some of the common causes are,

1. Spinal Stenosis

Commonly known as Lumbar Spinal stenosis, the condition refers to abnormal narrowing of the spinal canal. This narrowing exerts pressure on the spinal cord, along with sciatic nerve roots. It causes the patient immense pain and extends through from his/her buttock area down to lower limb.

2. Herniated Disks

This is another common cause of sciatic pain that occurs due to cartilage rips. The spinal bones and vertebrae are filled with firm tissue called cartilage. It is a clear and thick rubbery material between the bones to reduce friction and ensure cushioning and flexibility during bone movement.

The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons estimates that one in every fifty people experiences herniated disk once in the lifetime. Ripped cartilage causes herniated discs, compressing the sciatic nerve. It often results in numbness and pain in the lower limb.

3. Piriformis Syndrome

It is a very rare neuromuscular disease that causes involuntary contractions in piriformis muscles, increasing the symptoms of sciatica. A Piriformis muscle connects the muscles of thighbone to the spine’s lower portion.

When Piriformis muscle contracts, it exerts pressure on the connective nerves, leading to severe sciatic pain. The condition exacerbates if you fall, experience injury or remains in a stationary position for a long time.

4. Spondylolisthesis

Spondylolisthesis is an associated symptom of degenerative disk disease. The condition occurs when a vertebra or spinal cord extends forward and covers the nerves. This extension of bone pinches the sciatic nerves and causes debilitating pain.

Risk of Developing Sciatica Pain

Apart from the above- mentioned causes, certain behaviors can increase the risk of developing this painful condition. Some of the common risk factors include,

  • The risk of sciatic pain increases when you age. The nerves and tissues around your spinal cord are more likely to break down or wear out.
  • You can suffer the symptoms if your profession involves laborious work such as heavy object lifting, twisting movements or long hours sitting.
  • Diabetic patients are more prone to sciatic nerve damage.
  • Smoking can be a risk factor for pain as it damages the outer layer of spinal disks.

Sciatica Symptoms

Typically, Sciatica has distinct symptoms and usually occurs in the form of radiating pain flowing from the lower back through all buttock area towards lower limbs.

The pain is the result of injury or damaged sciatic nerve so that you might experience some other symptoms and pain associated with nerve damage. The common symptoms are,

  • You may experience the pain that deteriorates with movement
  • You may feel weakness and numbness in your feet, legs, traveling through the pathway of the sciatic If your pain is severe, feeling sleeping-limb or loss of movement is common.
  • Feeling  painful sensations of needles or pins, with painful  tingling  in feet or specifically, toes are also common in the beginning stage
  • Aged patients often experience incontinence in which they lose an ability to control bowels or bladder. It is a rare symptom and may need emergency attention.

Treatment and Exercises to Relieve Sciatica

Both types of treatment and exercise to relieve sciatic depends upon the severity of your pain. Upon diagnosing the sciatic symptoms, your doctor may give some effective exercises and tips to treat sciatic pain. Plus, continuing your routine activities is essential as avoiding physical activities may worsen the pain.

Following are some effective treatments and exercises to treat sciatic pain,

Physical Therapy

This is one of the effective treatments that improve posture and helps you strengthen your muscles.

Surgery

If you are experiencing severe sciatic pain, particularly when you lose control of bladder and bowel, or have developed extreme muscle weakness, surgery is an option to reduce the pain.

There are two surgeries microdiscectomy and discectomy that are common to treat this condition. In both surgeries, the disk part that is pressing nerves and causing the pain is removed. However, in microdiscectomy, the surgeon uses a microscope and removes the disc through a minor cut.

Medication

You may be prescribed some muscle relaxers, antidepressants, and narcotic pain. Not only these medications help you reduce the intensity of pain but also increase endorphin production in your body.

Epidural Steroid

Your doctor injects Corticosteroids medication into epidural space. It is a surrounded canal of your spinal cord. However, it may have a side effect that is why only a limited dose is given.

Regular Exercises

Staying active is the key to fight the sciatic pain. The more you keep your body active, the more it releases endorphin, which acts as the painkiller to relieve the pain. You can begin with low-impact physical activities like stationary bicycling and swimming. Once your endurance increases, follow an exercise regimen including strength training, aerobics or core stability.

Once you start following an exercise regime with a variety of activities, it will decrease not only the sciatic pain but also other back problems.

Bottom Line

Overall, sciatic pain is a serious medical issue that may lead to severe consequences. The above-mentioned causes, symptoms and treatment options help you treat sciatic pain in a better way.

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