Sciatica is a type of pain usually experienced as lower back pain that extends to the buttock down to one leg. In this condition, a large nerve in the body called the sciatic nerve is compressed or irritated due to injuries or certain medical conditions, such as bone spurs associated with osteoarthritis and herniated disks. The sciatic nerve also plays a key role in connecting leg and foot muscles with the spinal cord. Read on to learn more about the symptoms, causes, and treatment options for sciatica.
Symptoms of Sciatica
The occurrence of sciatica symptoms often depends on the location of the irritated or compressed nerve. Aside from lower back pain, other common symptoms of sciatica include:
- Pain around the hip joint
- Worsening pain from the buttock down to one leg, especially when sitting
- Leg, thigh, or foot numbness or weakness
- Difficulty moving the affected leg or foot
- Difficulty in standing
- Constant shooting pain on one side of the lower back
- Tingling or burning sensations down the leg
Sciatic pain can vary in intensity. Some people may endure constant and debilitating nerve pain while others may only experience infrequent pain. The pain can also be aggravated by frequent sneezing or coughing, including sitting for too long. Just one side of your body is usually affected when you have sciatica.
Other serious symptoms, which require immediate medical attention, include loss of bowel or bladder control along with numbness or fatigue in the upper thighs and lower extremities.
Conditions Associated with Sciatica
Sciatica is not a medical condition by itself but more of a pain syndrome caused by an underlying medical condition, such as lumbar spinal disorders. Knowing the root cause of sciatica symptoms is essential for proper treatment. The symptoms of sciatica are often caused by common lower back problems, including:
Herniated Disk: In most cases, symptoms of sciatica are experienced due to a herniated disk. Also called as a ruptured disk or slipped disk, a herniated disk happens when a disk along the spine develops a tear and part of its material that sets it apart from the vertebrae leaks or bulges. When this happens, it ends up pinching or irritating the nerves that run right past the spinal area. A pinched nerve can cause pain in different parts of the body, including the lower back with pain that radiates to the buttock and down into the leg.
Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction: This irritation occurs when there is faulty joint movement at the bottom of the spine, particularly the joints that connect the pelvis and sacrum. This joint dysfunction can cause sacroiliitis or sacroiliac joint inflammation, including low back pain that extends to the legs.
Degenerative Disk Disease: This refers to the natural changes in the spinal disks as people age. Degenerated discs can develop anywhere in the spine, but most of them occur in the lower back and irritate the nerve, resulting in lower back pain or sciatica.
Spinal Stenosis: This condition involves spinal canal narrowing that causes compression of the nerves resulting in symptoms, such as numbness, pain, or weakness from the neck down to the lower back and extremities. Spinal stenosis is often observed in older adults age 60 years old and above. The condition may also occur with other underlying medical conditions, such as arthritis and spinal arthritis.
Spondylolisthesis: When a vertebra abnormally slips forward onto another vertebra, a condition called spondylolisthesis occurs. When this happens, nerves can be compressed causing pain or sciatica.
Other Causes of Sciatic Pain
Aside from the most common causes of sciatica, there are also other conditions and factors that can contribute to sciatic pain. They include:
- Epidural fibrosis (scar tissue)
- Spinal tumor (rare)
- Ankylosing spondylitis
- Muscle strain
- Obesity or being overweight
- Physical inactivity
- Wearing high heels or tight jeans
Managing Sciatic Nerve Pain
Sciatica can be an extremely painful and disabling syndrome, which can affect daily routines. However, there are ways to treat and manage sciatic nerve pain. The main goal of sciatica treatment is to reduce pain along with increased flexibility and mobility.
Nonsurgical treatments for sciatica often include pain medications that can also help relieve inflammation, physical therapy, and certain exercises. Those who have leg vein problems and are also experiencing symptoms of sciatica may benefit from wearing compression garments for better support and to relieve pain and discomfort. Thigh high compression wear with a 20-30 mmHg graduation may help manage the pain and other leg vein problems.
Compression wear can help people with sciatica gain back their control over regular daily activities, including other tasks at work. Those who have lower back pain often complain about difficulty moving or standing up from a seated position due to pain. When wearing compression garments, standing can become easier and less painful.
Other symptoms that are associated with sciatica include numbness and tingling sensations in the lower leg down to the foot. Compression stockings can directly help relieve these symptoms by improving the flow of blood in the legs. It can also help ease pain and leg swelling. Relieving symptoms of sciatica is only one of the advantages of using compression garments. Don’t let sciatic pain stop you from doing the things you love.
If all else fails, you may need to undergo surgery to relieve the pain. Surgery may be recommended by your doctor, especially if you have worsening sciatic pain and when most medications and natural treatment options do not work. People who are crippled by the pain and have difficulty moving, standing up, or walking, including those who lose control of their bowels or bladder are often candidates for surgery.
Most surgical procedures often remove tissues, fragments, or other parts of the herniated disk that are compressing the sciatic nerve.
The symptoms of sciatica in some people may also be relieved by alternative treatments, such as acupuncture and yoga. Other alternative therapies include massage therapy for muscle spasms, which often occur with sciatica symptoms and biofeedback to relieve pain and manage stress.
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