Sciatic Nerve Pain Treatment
Sciatica is a relatively common complaint, affecting as many as 40% of people at some point during their lifetime. However, rather than a condition in its own right, sciatica is actually a term given to a range of symptoms of an underlying condition – compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve.
The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body, running from the back of your pelvis, through your buttocks, down your legs and ending at your feet. When the nerve becomes compressed or irritated, it causes the patient a range of symptoms which are described as sciatica.
Symptoms of SciaticaSome of the symptoms of a compressed or irritated sciatic nerve include:
- A tingling sensation that radiates from your lower back and into your legs, feet and even toes.
- Pain – either acute, dull or a combination of the two.
- Weakness in the muscles that work the calves, ankles and feet.
Causes of Sciatica
By far the largest cause of sciatica is a slipped disc. This is when one of the discs that sits between the vertebrae in the spine becomes damaged and begins to press on the sciatic nerve. Degeneration of the spine tends to happen as we age, meaning that older people are more likely to suffer from back problems such as slipped discs.
Other, less common causes of sciatica include:
- Cauda equine syndrome – a very rare but serious condition caused by compressed and damaged nerves in the spinal cord.
- Growth/s in the spine – such as tumors.
- Infection in the spine.
- Spinal injury.
- Spinal stenosis – a narrowing of the nerve passages in the spine.
- Spondylolisthesis – when one of the vertebrae slips out of position.
Sciatic Nerve Pain TreatmentIn many instances of sciatica, the symptoms improve by themselves within four to six weeks. However, there are things that you can do to help manage your pain and mobility at home while you are waiting for the episode to pass. This includes:
- Cold/hot therapies, to help reduce any inflammation and minimize pain.
- Over-the-counter pain relief medications, in particular anti-inflammatories.
- Warm/hot baths and gentle exercise in water.
In more serious cases of sciatica, you should consult with your doctor who may recommend more intensive treatment to improve your mobility levels and reduce discomfort, such as:
- Injections of anti-inflammatories and painkillers directly into your spine.
- Psychological therapy and support.
- Referral to manual therapies such as a chiropractor or osteopath.
- Referral to a physical therapist who will work with you to develop your mobility and give you exercises to continue at home.
- Stronger oral pain relief.
- Surgery may be recommended if all other treatments fail to yield sufficient results.
Long-term preventionIt is possible to minimize your risk of developing sciatica by making some simple changes to your lifestyle. This includes:
- Choosing a mattress that is firm enough to support your body so that your spine lies straight, rather than sagging.
- Exercising regularly.
- Improving your posture, particularly if you have a desk job.
- Learning to lift correctly.
- Stretching sufficiently before and after exercise.