Chronic pain is life changing and difficult. But, those who have had sciatica know it can be absolutely debilitating. Most people with sciatica spend the first few days bed-ridden and speak to the severe pain as the worst pain they have ever felt. So, let’s look at what sciatica is, and how to get relief.
What Is Sciatica?
Sciatica is a symptom that is commonly described as pain, tingling or burning down the back of the leg. The sciatic nerve starts in the low back and runs down the buttocks, the legs all the way to the feet. The pain can run down the leg in any area and the pattern can help the doctor diagnose the possible causes of sciatica. Most commonly, the cause is in the spine such as herniated disc or spinal stenosis, but other causes are outside the spine. The pain is caused by a lesion pressing on the nerve. The nerve becomes inflamed and the nerve causes the pain. Fortunately, most cases can be resolved without surgery, and sometimes it resolves on it’s own.
When to See A Doctor for Sciatica?
If your symptoms have no improvement for 1 week, or if you are experiencing severe pain, or if you heard a “pop” with sudden intense pain, it’s time to talk to your doctor to avoid the possibility of permanent nerve damage. The doctor will take a thorough history, determine whether the damage is causing weakness or numbness in the leg, whether you have had any pre-existing conditions and what treatments you have already tried. Then, the doctor will do appropriate testing and physical exams to determine the underlying cause. Once you have a diagnosis, your doctor can recommend the treatments that will help.
Most commonly rest and an anti-inflammatory (prescription or ice) help with immediate relief. But, long term, the best treatment is physical treatments and exercise. While the pain will subside slowly, once the acute inflammation is relieved, you will be placed on an exercise program.
The most effective treatment is strengthening the core to avoid flare-ups. Most everyone that presents with low back pain and sciatica are sedentary and work in a job that consists of prolonged sitting. Prolonged sitting promotes poor posture and weak core muscles. These muscles need to rest after an acute flare-up, but only for a few days because deconditioning is what lead to the problem in the first place. Anyone who has sciatica can tell you that prolonged sitting will exacerbate the pain. So, as soon as possible, the doctor will start you on exercises to protect the area. She may also prescribe vitamins B6 and B12 to help with nerve health. And it almost goes without saying that any extra weight in the abdomen will make a person more prone to sciatica due to the stress on the weak core muscles.