The compression of the sciatic nerve in the lumbar spine leads to sciatica nerve pain. As a result, an individual who is suffering from sciatica undergoes severe lower back pain that radiates down the back of the leg.
Some of the most common symptoms of sciatica include:
- Numbness and tingling
- Lower back pain
- A ‘pinched’ feeling
It either occurs due to a direct injury such as a sports or car accident or is a symptom of postural disorders.
The Sciatic Nerve
Without the sciatic nerve, we can’t use our legs or the lower body. The human spine comprises seven cervical vertebrae, five lumbar vertebrae, and twelve thoracic vertebrae. This nerve enters and exits the fourth and fifth lumbar vertebrae and Sacrum 1-3.
Does Sciatica Damage the Nerves?
The compression of the nerve by the nucleus pulposus or the vertebral bone may cause irritation and pain. However, sciatica doesn’t necessarily cause any nerve damage. Once the irritation and compression mitigate, the peripheral nerves can repair themselves, and you don’t feel discomfort. Chronic sciatica often leads to nerve damage that would feel like tingling, stabbing pain, or chronic burning.
Nonetheless, sciatica can cause devastating effects and may leave an individual disabled for two to six weeks. In worst cases, the effects last for a lifetime. Sciatica is potent enough to disrupt all facets of life. If you are suffering from sciatica, you may have difficulty when going to the bathroom, exercising, and sleeping.
What are the Different Types of Sciatica?
Here are the two broad categories of sciatica.
- Neurogenic Sciatica
This type of sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve compresses due to any reason. This kind of sciatica pain usually comes with leg pain that is worse than lower back pain. If an individual has neurogenic sciatica, they may have symptoms like muscle weakness and numbness.
- Referred Sciatica
Referred sciatica arises because of an issue in the area near the sciatic nerve. For instance, a problem in the pelvis or spine may give birth to significant pain along the path of the sciatic nerve. An individual undergoing referred sciatica pain usually experiences muscle weakness and numbness, which are common with neurogenic sciatica.
Doctors can trace the condition back to the pain’s source within these two major categories. Let’s take a look at the three common areas that can cause sciatica.
S1 nerve root: This vertebra is in the lower spine. When sciatica involves the nerve root, you may experience pain in the outside of the foot.
L4 nerve root: The area refers to the lower spine’s L4 vertebra. Sciatic nerve pain occurs if the L5 vertebra slips over the L4 vertebra. Individuals with sciatica that involves the L4 nerve root experience pain in their lower leg and foot.
L5 nerve root: When the L5 nerve root causes any problem, the sciatic pain can travel down to the top of the foot as well as the toes.
What are the Causes of Sciatica?
Many underlying issues can cause sciatica. Let’s discuss some of the most common triggers.
- Degenerative Disc Disease
This is a natural part of aging, and by the time someone reaches their 50th birthday, they may experience some degree of spinal degeneration. Our spine’s discs offer cushioning, which absorbs any shocks from everyday movement. But as we grow older, the discs begin to deteriorate naturally.
This condition does not always cause any discomfort or pain. But when an individual experiences pain because of this degeneration, it is called degenerative disc disease. If you have one or more degenerated discs, you may have irritated nerve roots, resulting in sciatica. This pain stems from degenerative disc disease and varies in terms of severity and frequency. A professional doctor can make a correct diagnosis by inquiring you about the symptoms and conducting a physical examination. He may also ask for imaging tests such as an MRI or an X-ray.
- Herniated Discs
This condition occurs in either the upper or the lower spine. When a herniated disc causes symptoms of sciatica, it is most likely in the lower or lumbar spine. Our discs in the spine feature a softer center offering cushioning. But they have a harder exterior. When a disc is herniated, it can cause discomfort in the spine’s nerves leading to sciatica pain. For instance, if a herniated disc is in the lumbar spine, it will cause pain in the leg. In some cases, you may also experience tingling, numbing, or weakening of muscles. Depending on the position of your spine, your symptoms may become more or less intense.
A stress fracture of the spine or spondylolysis is a common injury in young sportsmen and athletes. However, it can affect anyone at any age. The fifth vertebra in the spine can be susceptible to this injury. If there is repeated stress to the vertebra, it can fracture one or both sides. If it happens, you experience symptoms of sciatica. Spondylolysis can sometimes result in spondylolisthesis. In this condition, the fractured vertebra gets too weak, and you can’t stay in one position. As a result, the affected vertebra pinches nerves in the spine, causing sciatica pain.
- Lumbar Spinal Stenosis
This condition occurs when the natural space around the spinal cord becomes too narrow. Typically, this condition results due to aging. But it can be congenital in some cases. The pressure on the nerves and the spinal cord increases when the lumbar spinal stenosis causes the space around the spine to narrow. This pressure can trigger sciatica pain because it affects the upper back and may go down into the foot.
In addition to these major causes, numerous factors may contribute to sciatica. For instance, our lifestyle, occupation, and weight can also play a crucial role. Let’s take a look at some of these factors.
Obesity: If you are overweight, you may be at risk of sciatica. As excess weight puts stress on the spine, it can give birth to sciatica.
Occupation: When you sit behind a computer all day or lift heavy objects at work, your spine is at risk of developing many complications, such as sciatica.
Weight: Obesity is a significant risk factor for sciatica. Excess weight will put more stress on your spine, affecting it and leading to sciatica pain.
Age: When we get older, our spine becomes vulnerable to stress. Hence, spinal conditions like lumbar spinal stenosis and degenerative disc disease can affect the spine’s health.
Diabetes: If you are diabetic, you are at an increased risk of acquiring sciatica. That’s because the body of a diabetes patient uses blood sugar in a different way. Hence, the body becomes vulnerable to nerve damage or sciatica.
How to Prevent Sciatica
We can incorporate some healthy habits into our lifestyle to reduce the risk of sciatica. For example, exercising regularly can help us prevent many painful conditions related to the spine, such as sciatica. The key is to choose workouts that focus on your core muscles. You should also target the muscle in your lower back and abdomen.
Improve your posture and sit in a proper position. If you must lift heavy objects, use your legs and not your back. Avoid twisting the back when lifting any heavy object.
Eat a healthy diet. Make sure to include all the essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients in your daily diet. Add leafy green vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds to your menu. Stay hydrated by having at least eight glasses of water every day.
What are the Symptoms of Sciatica?
Here are some specific symptoms of sciatica.
The most obvious symptom of sciatica is pain. You are likely to experience discomfort and pain on one side of the body. But in some cases, you experience pain only in the buttocks and lower back. It could stem from your back and travel down into your calf or thigh. The pain may also reach down to your foot or toes. The severity of pain depends on the factors that are causing sciatica. This type of pain can be sharp or aching.
Numbness and tingling are other unpleasant sensations that arise due to sciatica. You may experience your foot or leg going numb. Many people describe this feeling as a burning or prickling sensation. Besides, sciatica also weakens the affected areas of the body. For instance, you may have a hard time lifting your ankle or big toe. In worst scenarios, an individual may lose bladder and bowel control because of sciatica.
We can find some relief by lying down or walking. That’s because the sciatica pain usually becomes worse if we are standing still or sitting down.
What are the Treatment Options for Sciatica?
After you get a diagnosis from a professional doctor, always follow their instructions for managing the sciatica pain. There are various types of treatments available for relieving sciatica pain. Here are some of the most effective treatment options to help you live an active and healthy life.
- Physical Therapy and Exercise
When you consult a doctor for sciatica pain, one option they will recommend is physical therapy. They will also suggest making lifestyle changes, such as adding exercise into your routine. Many times, hot and cold therapy can calm the irritated nerves and provide pain relief. Remember to perform simple stretches at home to save yourself from pain conditions like sciatica. Target the muscles in the back of your thigh and hamstring.
It’s true that tense hamstrings put unnecessary stress on the lower back. By stretching, we can relieve the discomfort in the lower back. Core-strengthening exercises provide support to the core and reduce the likelihood of future symptoms. Doing simple aerobic exercise, such as walking, can be an excellent way to reduce sciatica symptoms. Your physical therapist will also guide you to improve your posture and boost the flexibility of your muscles.
- Lifestyle Changes
People suffering from sciatica nerve pain can improve their symptoms by adjusting their lifestyle. For instance, obese individuals should make changes to their diet and add exercise into their daily routine. If some people’s occupation requires them to lift heavy objects or sit for prolonged periods, they should take frequent breaks. Don’t forget to walk or stretch during the lunch break to relax your muscles.
Many times, a standing desk offers a great way to reduce ‘sitting time’ at work. Invest in a high-quality standing desk featuring an ergonomic design to improve posture and reduce pain.
While these lifestyle changes seem small, they go a long way to protect your spine and muscles from pain and damage in the future.
Sometimes, physical therapy is not enough to treat sciatica. If you think exercise, lifestyle changes, or physical therapy is not relieving sciatica pain, consult your doctor. He may recommend medication to ease the pain and treat your symptoms. For example, muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatories, and opioids are some common types of medication that effectively relieve sciatica pain. These drugs reduce the pain that stems from the back to the lower body. Among these medication options, steroid injections are the most popular. This treatment method involves injecting corticosteroids into the affected area to reduce nerve inflammation.
When nothing seems to relieve sciatica pain, surgery can be the ultimate solution. Your doctor and physical therapist will suggest surgery only after trying all possible treatment options. But not everyone can qualify for surgery. If someone has serious symptoms, such as bowel or bladder dysfunction and muscle weakness, they may require sciatica surgery.
The nature of the surgery depends on the cause of sciatica. When an individual has a lumbar disc herniation, they will have to undergo a microdiscectomy. During this surgery, the doctor will remove the part of the disc that puts pressure on the nerve to cause pain. Your surgeon will perform a discectomy endoscopically by making an incision, which is only a quarter of an inch long.
- Topical Creams
If you don’t want to opt for surgery to treat sciatica pain, go for other pain relief methods such as topical creams. Manufactured by reputed brands, these products usually feature natural ingredients.
Best Creams for Sciatica Relief
Here is our pick of the best creams for sciatica.
- Joint Mud
Although Joint Mud is very handy for joint pain, it can also be used to treat muscular/skeletal issues like sciatica. If you are interested in natural ingredients without concerns of long-term use, it might be the cream to try!
- Sciatica Nerve Relief Cream from Nuturna
The pain relief cream offers a plethora of benefits to relieve common neurological conditions, including sciatica. With its non-greasy and lightweight texture, the cream easily absorbs into the skin for providing immediate relief. The formula has essential ingredients to soothe and calm pain that irritates your lower body.
- Arnica Gel Cream from Dulac
The Arnica gel cream, manufactured in Italy, relieves stubborn pain and symptoms. Thanks to its natural ingredients, including eucalyptus and peppermint essential oils, the gel has potent anti-bacterial properties. If you are looking for immediate relief, turn to the Arnica gel cream. Rub it twice a day and reap the benefits of using a strong pain relief formula. The product is also popular among athletes who experience neurological, muscular strain.
Living with sciatica pain is not easy. But if you incorporate health and wellness into your daily life, you can relieve the intensity of symptoms. In most cases, sciatica pain resolves within six to eight weeks. Some people also note that the pain keeps coming and going without disrupting their life.
Follow our guide if you want to live a pain-free life. Topical creams, exercise, and a good posture can help you overcome the pain and discomfort of sciatica.