Sciatica - Causes and Treatments

Sciatica Pain

More than 84 percent of people worldwide experience back pain at some point during their life and three million will visit emergency rooms for back pain symptoms annually. One reason for low back pain is sciatica. A large study of sciatica reveals that five percent of men and four percent of women are affected. Unfortunately, 10 to 15 percent will have arecurrence of this problem. The largest nerve in the body is the sciatic nerve, which branches from the lower back and runs down the back of the leg to the ankle.

Sciatica is a pain that travels the length of the sciatic nerve, which typically only affects one side of the body. Symptoms vary, but pain, numbness, tingling or a burning sensation are common.

I recently had sciatica on my right side, and it was much more painful than I ever expected. As a nurse I have met people who suffered from sciatica, but this was the first time it ever affected me. The pain was fairly severe and before treatment even driving a car was extremely painful.

Sciatic Nerve

Source

Causes of Sciatica

Sciatica typically occurs because of a ruptured intervertebral disc, spinal stenosis, which is a narrowing of the spinal canal, an injury like a pelvic fracture or a bone spur that puts pressure on the sciatic nerve.

If an individual still has severe sciatica after six weeks of treatment, they are often treated with surgery to relieve pressure on the nerve.

Common Risk Factor for Sciatica

Common Risk Factors for Sciatica

  • Age-related changes in the spine are a common cause of sciatica.
  • Obesity can be a factor as this puts increased stress on your spine.
  • A job that requires you to twist your back and carry heavy loads may also play a role in sciatica.
  • Diabetic patients may be at a higher risk due to the elevated blood sugar that increases the risk of nerve damage in the body.

A Book to End Pain

Relief is in the Stretch: End Back Pain Through Yoga
Relief is in the Stretch: End Back Pain Through Yoga

Relief Is In The Stretch is the first book to distinguish the nine common causes of low back pain, to teach you how to identify them, and to describe appropriate yoga poses to relieve each one of them.

 

Pain in my Lower Back and Treatment

When I first started having the pain I read a little bit about sciatica and hoped it would go away on its own, which it often does. That was not to be the case for me. I finally saw a doctor who did some x-rays and an MRI which showed spinal stenosis, which was putting pressure on the nerve.

He talked with me about surgery, which I did not consider as an option. Ultimately, I had three corticosteroid injections a few weeks apart and some physical therapy. The pain was completely relieved. I continue to do the stretches that I was taught in physical therapy, as I don’t want this condition to return.

Due to insurance requirements I saw two doctors and a nurse practitioner between my three injections, so the whole procedure probably lasted a bit more than two months in my case. I have been told that the sciatica could very likely to recur in a month, six months or a year. I am counting on the stretching exercises to prevent this from reoccurring.

I purchased a Lifeform seat cushion that contains visco-elastic memory foam, which conforms to the body. It was amazing how much relief I received from this cushion. I could drive much more comfortably and use the computer for longer periods of time.

Stretches to End Pain

Sciatic Nerve Pain Rehab - Inflamed Sciatic Nerve

Other Options

Other helpful treatments include:

  • Cold packs can be placed on the painful area for twenty minutes up to several times a day.
  • Hot packs after two or three days of pain may be applied to the painful area. A heating pad on low setting also works and can be alternated with cold packs.
  • Stretching exercises for the lower back may help relieve the nerve root compression. Be careful not to jerk your body or twisted during the stretches. Hold the stretch for at least thirty seconds.
  • Some over-the-counter medications may work such as ibuprofen or naproxen.

Some patients try acupuncture or see a chiropractor for a spinal adjustment. These treatments appear to be safe and healthful for low back pain.

Sciatica Treatments

There are several medications used to treat this condition. They include anti-inflammatories, narcotics, muscle relaxants, tricyclic antidepressants and anti-seizure medications. I used some narcotics prior to steroid injections, but they provided only mild relief.

A common treatment is to inject a corticosteroid medication around the nerve root, which suppresses inflammation around the irritated nerve, but the effect may wear off after a few months.

The last option is surgery, but surgery is typically used for patients with significant weakness, bowel or bladder incontinence or when the pain worsens without any improvement despite therapy. Since I am on blood thinners and prednisone, I consider myself high risk for surgery, and it will be absolutely the last option if this problem reoccurs.

Prevention

There are a few ways you can try to prevent the sciatica, although it still may recur. Exercising regularly is beneficial for your overall health, particularly if you pay attention to your core muscles, which include the muscles in your abdomen and lower back. These are important for proper posture and alignment. Maintaining proper posture when you sit with lower back support and armrests can also be helpful.

Try to use good body mechanics, so if you stand for a long period of time, rest one foot on a stool or small box from time to time. If you are lifting something heavy, use the lower extremities by keeping your back straight and bend only at the knees. Hold the heavy item close to your body, and be careful not to twist your body while lifting.

I am not a doctor and I am not advocating any particular therapy for this problem. Since this was a new experience for me, I wanted to share my personal experience.

Have You Experience Sciatica?

Please share your outcome if you have had sciatica and note what worked for you in your comments.

  • I have never had sciatica.
  • I have had sciatica, and it went away after a few weeks without treatment, other than possibly over the counter medications.
  • I have had sciatica several times and always require medical treatment.
  • I had to have surgery to relieve my sciatica.
See results without voting

Share Experience

I hope if you have suffered from this problem that you will share your personal experience in the comment section. I would be particularly interested in knowing what worked for you.

© 2013 Pamela Oglesby

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36 comments

rebeccamealey profile image

rebeccamealey 2 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

Helpful info, I get some lower-back pain from time-to -time but nothing too severe, yet...those stretches look helful for anyone!


Vellur profile image

Vellur 2 years ago from Dubai

Great hub, thank you for the education on sciatica. Informative and clearly explained. Proper posture and exercises are very important for people suffering with back pain.


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 2 years ago from United States Author

Rebecca, I think the stretches are definitely helpful, especially as we age. Thanks for your comments.


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 2 years ago from United States Author

Vellur, You are right and so many people seem to have back problems. I appreciate your comments.


Alphadogg16 profile image

Alphadogg16 2 years ago from Texas

Very informative hub Pamela99, as healthcare professionals, sometimes we are so concerned with others that we don't practice what we preach. Thumbs up on your hub.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

Been there and done that. I had surgery in 1999 for sciatica. Worse pain I have ever experienced. I spent Christmas of 1998 on the floor barely able to move.....despite the horrors I had heard about surgery I had to have it. There was simply no relief....and a miracle happened. The surgery was successful and I've never experienced pain since. Excellent summary of sciatica my friend.


always exploring profile image

always exploring 2 years ago from Southern Illinois

This is great Pam. I have a herniated disk, 5th, Lumbar. I do the back stretching daily. I have had several steroid injections which eases the pain dramatically. I think the worst time i ever had was at work one day,i was passing meds and lost all feeling in my right leg. When i saw the Doctor he stuck a small needle just under the skin on my leg and i did not feel it. He injected my back with a cortiosteroid and i immediately felt my leg and was pain free. For me, the most important treatment is the stretching. I haven't had a flare-up for quite some time now. Thank you for sharing this...


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 2 years ago from United States Author

Alphadogg, That is so true. It seems we always take care of everyone else first. Thanks so much for your comments.


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 2 years ago from United States Author

Billy, I wondered how bad the surgery would be because the initial pain I had was so severe. I'm glad the surgery worked for you. They showed me an MRI picture of how tight the bone is around the nerve, but I still don't want the surgery if at all possible. Thanks so much for the comments.


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 2 years ago from United States Author

Ruby, I am sorry to hear about your herniated disk, not to mention all the tough times. I am glad to know the stretches are working for you. When I got the corticosteroid shot I could distinctly feel the medication along with painkiller go from my back all the way to a spot right behind my right ankle. The pain killler worked immediatley. I will definitely keep up the stretching and thanks so much for your comments.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

This is a useful overview of sciatica that will be helpful for many people, Pamela. I experience back pain occasionally with symptoms that resemble sciatica (although I've never been diagnosed with this problem). I'll try some of your recommendations.


breakfastpop profile image

breakfastpop 2 years ago

Pamela,

Thank you so much for this smart common sense hub. From time to time I suffer from sciatica. I will take your suggestions to heart.


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 2 years ago from United States Author

Alicia, I hope you don't get sciatica, but sorry you have the back problem.The stretches will probably help you also. Thanks for your comments.


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 2 years ago from The Beautiful South

I am not a nurse so I am sure you know more than me but in case you don't know those cortisone shots can come back to haunt you. As good as they make you feel right now, too many will eventually put you in worse shape than you were ever in. I think it is a crime they don't tell you that beforehand. Side effects that serious should always be discussed with patients I believe to make their own decision. I think I would choose the surgery if it were a choice between the two since the cortisone can only be temporary and creating a problem of its own. So there Pamela is my opinion, lol. You asked for it. Oh and those exercises work for my husband. ^+


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 2 years ago from England

This is the strangest thing! I found this hub while sitting here in agony with sciatica! I wrote a post about it on bubblews, then spotted this! thanks so much for the info, I am going to try the exercises, great advice! and voted up! nell


marcoujor profile image

marcoujor 2 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

Excellent overview and so inspirational to have your experiences and effective strategies shared, Pamela.

Glad you are feeling better and thank you for this valuable sharing.

Hugs, Maria


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 2 years ago from United States Author

BPOP, I'm glad to hear this information will help you. Thanks for your comments.


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 2 years ago from United States Author

Jackie, I appreciate your opinion, but I have been on prednisone for years, and yes there is a price to be paid. I have lupus and the prednisone was the only thing that stopped it from destroying kidneys. I hope I don't have any more sciatica flare-ups, but since I am already immune suppressed from the prednisone and on strong blood thinners because I had 2 heart stents put in this past spring, surgery is risky for me right now. I guess I am in a catch 22 situation. If I knew then what I know now, I would never have let them give me so much prednisone when I was younger. I appreciate your comments, and I am glad to know the exercises worked for your husband.


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 2 years ago from United States Author

Nell Rose, I am sorry to hear you have this problem and I sympathize with the pain as it is miserable. I hope the exercises help. Thanks for your comments.


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 2 years ago from United States Author

Maria, I am glad you found the hub of value and I appreciate your comments.


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 2 years ago from The Beautiful South

We I can certainly see why you have made that choice then, but they really should cover side effects more with patients, you know how doctors are not wanting pharmacist telling us anything so then it should be their place to tell us and in your case I see now you knew your choices, but many patients don't and maybe they can learn here. I understand the blood thinners too, my mom being on them for so many years and all the trips checking it. It was always good and I knew to watch the greens and Vit-K but it is crucial to keep an eye on I know. God bless all your bad.


DDE profile image

DDE 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

Sciatica - Causes and Treatments sounds painful but you covered all aspects here and sharing your experience is such a wonderful idea in giving us more of an idea of what to expect with Sciatica.


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 2 years ago from United States Author

Jackie, You are right about people not being aware quite often of side effects and they often aren't really given the big picture. When I was nursing I always told patients that taking a medication was their decision. So many patients will do anything the doctor sayw without asking pertinenent questions. I liked to be an educator of my patients. Thanks so much for caring and writing me. It is much apppreciated.


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 2 years ago from United States Author

DDE, I thought if you have never had this problem at least you will know what it is if it happens too you. I appreciate your comments.


Genna East profile image

Genna East 2 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

Thank you for this hub. My sciatica hits with a vengeance out of nowhere, and then will retreat for some inexplicable reason just as quickly. Exercising during these bouts is especially brutal, but it has to be done. Walking and maintenance stretching helps during the interim. I am sorry to hear that you and others here suffer from this as well. It is no picnic, Pam. This well-written, detailed hub is exceedingly helpful, Pam. Thank you!


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 2 years ago from United States Author

Genna, I wouldn't have thought the sciatica would just disappear so quickly, when I know how painful it is. I appreciate you sharing your experience and the comments.


Genna East profile image

Genna East 2 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

Hi Pam. It does fade after a bout which can last a few months -- often less. When it hits, it's all I can do to get out of bed in the morning. I learned to never go to a chiropractor during a bout. Even after it fades, I can't stand still for any period of time without feeling a dull ache start to creep up on me -- I need to walk, sit or move -- but that dull ache is nothing compared to the hot fire pokers when I get with a full-on bout.


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 2 years ago from United States Author

Genna, It is too bad that no doctor has been able to relieve this problem for you. I know the pain was pretty extreme for me also and you really can't do much when you are in that kind of pain. I hope things get better for you.


RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 2 years ago from the short journey

Thanks for posting this info with your experience. It's so important for everyone to do the stretches for prevention, but a bout with sciatica is a real motivator to be consistent with them. There is a useful exercise, commonly called Eye of the Needle, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NBHPJbNAjkU

that I've found very helpful.


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 2 years ago from United States Author

RTalloni, Sciatica sure is a motivator. Now that I have personal experience, I am happy to receive any suggestions to prevent a recurrence. Thanks for the "Eye of the Neeedle". I am going to check it out now. I appreciate your commnts.


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 2 years ago

After reading your post, I must remember to keep proper posture for a healthy body. Thanks for the education on this topic. Excellent advice and information that will help many to remain strong.


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 2 years ago from United States Author

Dianna, I am glad this hub was useful for you and I appreciate your comments.


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 2 years ago from England

Hi Pamela, as you know my back is killing me! lol! but seriously I have had sciatica and its horrible, I am sorry you had all that trouble. Its such a nightmare, and yes those exercises do really work, I remember getting it badly when I sat in an office all day, voted up and shared nell


WiccanSage profile image

WiccanSage 2 years ago

Great information. I had sciattica during my pregnancies, and then I had it after a nasty car accident that jacked up my lower back, but thankfully after a year of physical therapy it's been reduced to an occasional discomfort. I really feel bad for those who are suffering from this regularly. I do a lot of light yoga/stretching exercises too so it helps. Very useful hub.


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 2 years ago from United States Author

Nell Rose, I am glad to hear someone else say those exercises work because I sure don't want it to return. I had always heard it was painful, but WOW it is really painful. Thanks so much for your comments.


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 2 years ago from United States Author

WiccanSage, You really suffered with it for a long period of time. I only had it for about 2 1/2 months. I am doing stretches also, but probably should try some yoga. I appreciate your comments.

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