Sciatica - Causes and Treatments
More than 84% of people worldwide experience back pain at some point during their life, and three million 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% will have a recurrence 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.
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.
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 and was putting pressure on the nerve.
The doctor 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 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.
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.
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 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.