Kauvery Hospital | Patient Newsletters | Sciatica - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

The nerve roots emerging from the spinal cord into the lower back, unite to form the Sciatic Nerve. The Sciatic nerve extends all the way down to the buttocks and branches down the hind or back side of the leg, to the ankle and right down to the foot.

Irritation of the Sciatic Nerve roots, produces either a tingling sensation or numbness and the resulting pain is known as Sciatica.

Cause

Typically the prime reason for sciatica to occur, is because of a herniated (ruptured) disc or because of a bulge in the disc in the spinal column. This bulge or rupture presses against the nerve roots which leads to the sciatic nerve, causing pain. Sciatica can also occur due to symptoms of other disorders affecting the spine, like stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal), small bony growths that grow along the joints in the spine (bone spurs), pinched nerve (compression of the nerve roots, as a result of an injury), or because of arthritis. Sciatica is also known to occur in very rare conditions due to pregnancy or due to tumors.

Symptoms

Symptoms include acute pain which begins in the lower back or in the buttock region and runs all the way down the leg and into the foot. Tingling sensations, numbness or weakness of the leg may develop.

Conditions that aggravate the disorder are standing, sitting for long periods or movements that impel the spine to contract, like climbing a staircase (bending of knee to chest).

Any activity such as lying down or walking, or movements that involve stretching the spine may help relieve the symptoms experienced.

Treatment

Sciatica is generally diagnosed with the use of medical history along with a physical exam. In some cases an X-ray together with other tests like a MRI scan may be done to help identify the cause.

The primary treatment is normally focused on exercises and medications and in most patients sciatica will alleviate with this initial treatment.

Depending on what is causing the nerve to be irritated and if the symptoms do not improve with the primary care, then physical therapy may be suggested, or steroid injections could be administrated, or stronger medications like muscle relaxant may be advised. Surgery is resorted to only in extreme cases.

Over a period of time, Sciatica will get better and go away, if certain measures are taken.

Apart from taking medications and exercising, if the following suggestions are practiced, sciatica will improve and go away (for those in the initial stages).

What you can do?

In many cases, sciatica will improve and go away with time. Initial treatment usually focuses on medicines and exercises to relieve pain.

You can help relieve pain by:

  • Abstaining from sitting (unless sitting is more comfortable than standing)
  • Alternate lying down with short walks and increase the length of walking distance in stages, and as far as you can without experiencing any pain.
  • Be safe while taking your medications and follow the instructions strictly.
  • Icepacks and heating pads can help some people but to date there has been no evidence that this may work.

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