- Personal Health Information & Self-Help
Sciatica Treatment And Lower Back Pain Exercises And Stretches
Like a bolt of lightning...
One morning last week I rose at the usual hour and took my morning bath.
And halfway through it, someone set fire to my backside, then had a change of heart and tried to put out the flames. With a pick axe.
Well at least that's how it felt. Welcome to sciatica.
First, the agony...
Sciatic nerve pain, making you swear like a sailor. Ouch.
Previous attacks meant I knew what to do. Apply a hot water bottle to the painful area, take some Ibuprofen, swear like a sailor with Tourette's, and sit it out.
And when I say 'sit it out', I mean of course stand, then lie down, then pace the floor wincing, then settle hunched over the sofa arm with my knees on the carpet and a hot water bottle balanced on one buttock, because that's the only position in which the pain stops. For now.
And 'sit it out' doesn't mean you should expect this bad boy to depart any time soon, like before the day is done.
Nope. Sciatica is like an unwelcome house guest. Like your wife's weird uncle, it saunters in uninvited, kicks off its shoes and sets up camp. It's here for a while.
What is sciatica?
Sciatica is what happens when there is pressure on, or damage to, the sciatic nerve. This comes from your lower spine and runs down the back of each leg.
Sciatica is a symptom of an underlying medical condition. Your bout of sciatica could have one of many causes - a slipped disk or pelvic injury say, or maybe Piriformis syndrome.
What is Piriformis Syndrome?
The piriformis muscle lies deep within the gluteal muscles, originating from the sacral spine and latching onto the greater trochanter of the femur, the big, bony bit on the outside top of the thigh.
When the piriformis muscle in your buttock spasms because of trauma or overuse, it can compress the sciatic nerve beneath it. This causes pain, tingling and numbness along the path it takes down your leg.
The sciatic nerve usually passes underneath the piriformis muscle, but in around 17% of the population, it travels through it. These people are particularly predisposed to piriformis syndrome.
An effective and easy treatment includes stretching and strengthening the muscle groups in the area. Exercises targeting the gluteus medius and hip abductors can alleviate symptoms of piriformis syndrome within days.
How to Fix Piriformis Syndrome
Sciatica Treatment - Which One Is Best?
Often, recovery from a bout of sciatica just takes rest and time. Most sources recommend the following to treat your symptoms and reduce inflammation:
- Apply hot or cold compresses to the affected area, maybe cold first, then heat after that.
- Take OTC pain relief, such as Ibuprofen.
- Don't rest in bed. My experience has been that bed rest makes the pain worse.
- Take things easy for the first couple of days. Frankly, you won't have a choice. After a while, as the pain subsides, get back to your normal levels of activity
- Avoid heavy lifting for a month or so. Start exercising gently after 2 weeks. Concentrate on strengthening your core muscles and keeping your back flexible.
Piriformis Syndrome: How To Quickly Stop Sciatica and Low Back Pain
I've Got Sciatica - Should I See My Doctor?
Generally, your doctor will tell you pretty much what's in the paragraph above. But if these home made measures fail, or the pain grows worse, or shows no sign of abating, get yourself checked to rule out more serious problems. Remember sciatica is a symptom rather than a disease. Sometimes the cause is trivial, other times, not.
If your pain is severe, a doctor might prescribe a stronger pain killer, perhaps an NSAID anti inflammatory, or codeine. Remember that all pain killers come with risks attached. Always read and follow the instructions when you take them.
Spine and herniated disc
Slipped disc and Lumbar spinal stenosis - Serious causes of sciatica.
Though a spinal disc herniation is often called a slipped disc, the term is not accurate. The spinal discs are fixed and can't 'slip'.
It happens when a tear in the outer ring of an intervertebral disc lets the soft bit inside bulge out - which causes severe pain.
Minor herniations heal within weeks, and can be treated with anti-inflammatories. Severe herniations may need surgery.
Lumbar Spinal Stenosis
Lumbar spinal stenosis happens when the spinal canal grows narrow enough to compress the spinal cord and nerves at the level of the lumbar vertebra. This can be caused by spinal degeneration related to ageing. It can also be caused by spinal disc herniation, osteoporosis, or a tumour.
Lumbar spinal stenosis causes low back pain, along with pain or tingling and numbness in the legs and feet. In the worst case it could cause loss of bladder and bowel control.
How to eliminate back pain with acupressure points
A healthy spine
Want to avoid Sciatica? Try these exercises for lower back pain.
Lower back pain exercises could be your best preventative sciatica treatment option. If you maintain a strong core and avoid the triggers, such as sitting too long, or over exercising, you should stay sciatica-free.
Gentle stretches of the hamstrings and lower back will keep you mobile and help prevent future attacks. You can do them sitting down. Stretch out one leg at a time, with your foot pointing at the ceiling. Bend forward at the hip to maximize the pull on your hamstrings.
Or try sitting on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you, feet against a wall. Allow your upper body to slump forward so that you feel the pull in your buttocks and the backs of your thighs.
Sitting again in a chair, cross one leg over the other so your foot rests on your knee. Bracing your hands against your shin, lean forward at the waist until you feel the pull.
What if you left it too late and you're already hurting?
Test your limits carefully, but try to do the exercises if you can. In the first few days of an attack you might be too sore, but as the pain eases, gentle exercise seems to help.
If you can do this...
Look after your back. And that goes for your whole body. Treat it like a rare and valuable vintage automobile, one that you're not sure you can get the parts for anymore.
Sciatica is Nature's way of telling you you're not thirty now. Bear that in mind. Your blithe assumptions as to how much your body can handle in the way of work or strenuous relaxation might need readjusting to deal with the realities of ageing.
Good health is not a right. It's more of a gift, and one you have to invest in to maintain. And if I could only take my own good advice I wouldn't be limping now. Excuse me, won't you? I have some shrieking to do.