Because it causes mild to severe pain that can affect the lower back, buttocks and legs, sciatica isn’t something that can be easily ignored. Contrary to popular belief, sciatica is not a medical condition; it’s a symptom of several possible conditions. Still, that doesn’t make it any less unpleasant. By understanding the causes of sciatica and how they are commonly treated, you may be able to manage or eliminate your pain more quickly.
Sciatica refers to pain that originates with the sciatic nerve. This nerve runs from the spinal cord to just past the knees, which makes it the longest in the body. Sciatica is typically characterized by burning, throbbing, shooting or cramping pain in one or both legs, and it can also cause numbness and/or tingling in the legs and feet. In some cases, sciatica causes pain that radiates through the lower back and buttocks.
In many cases, sciatica occurs when a disc in the back is slipped or herniated, which puts excess pressure on the exiting spinal nerve roots.
Other potential causes of sciatica include:
Pinched Nerve – If the sciatic nerve is “pinched” somewhere inside or outside the spinal canal, the resulting pain may present itself in the lower extremities.
Piriformis Syndrome – This condition causes spasms in the piriformis muscle, which is located near the buttocks. These spasms often cause irritation to the sciatic nerve.
Spondylolisthesis – Nerves exits are narrowed when one or more vertebrae slip onto one another, which can put excess pressure on exiting nerves.
Spinal Stenosis – A narrowing of the spinal canal can result in the pinching of the sciatic nerve, which can cause sciatica.
The ideal way to treat sciatica is by treating the condition that’s causing it. However, it is often difficult to completely eliminate many of the most common causes of sciatica, so pain management and relief become top priorities. A few of the ways in which these goals are achieved include:
Lifestyle Changes – Managing or eliminating the symptoms of sciatica is often as simple as making a few lifestyle changes. These may include switching to a firmer mattress, wearing orthopedic shoes, engaging in physical therapy or exercise, getting more rest, staying off your feet as much as possible and getting occasional massages.
Medication – Medications that are sometimes prescribed to treat sciatica include muscle relaxants, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, opioids and antidepressants.
Interventional Treatments – Popular techniques for treating sciatica include spinal cord stimulation, biofeedback and injections, which may include Botox, epidural steroid injections and trigger point injections.
Alternative Medicine – Some patients successfully manage and treat their symptoms through yoga, acupuncture, transcutaneous electrical stimulation and other alternative treatments.
If you are dealing with sciatica, remember that it’s actually a symptom of another underlying condition. When the underlying condition is successfully diagnosed and treated, the symptoms of sciatica should lessen or disappear entirely. With this in mind, it’s crucial to seek treatment from a qualified and experienced medical professional.