Sciatica is literally a pain in the rear. The distinctive pain it conjures not only irritates your lower back, but spreads to your lower limbs.
The ancient Greeks coined the term “sciatica” to describe the pain around the hip or thighs. Hippocrates himself studied the symptom, describing most patients as men aged 40 to 60 years, and suffering from pain that lasts 40 days.
In modern times, up to 40 percent of the population are afflicted with sciatica at some point in their lives, and most sufferers rely on simple remedies to get rid of sciatica within two weeks.
Whether you prefer to face back pain at home or with medical help, read on to know more about the common and proven, effective sciatic back pain treatments.
What is the difference between sciatica and back pain?
Both sciatica and back pain are referred to as symptoms, meaning they are indicative of an underlying condition or disease.
“Back pain” is a general term used to describe a range of physical discomfort triggered by various causes. Sciatica, meanwhile, is a specific type of back pain that carries unique symptoms, which may include a numbing or tingling sensation, apart from pain.
Discomfort caused by back pain is restricted to the neck, spine and tailbone. Sciatica pain may be anywhere from your lower back or tailbone, to the rear pelvis, thigh, leg and foot.
What does it mean to have sciatica?
Sciatica is a broad definition for the pain along the sciatic nerve pathway. The discomfort is caused by an irritated, inflamed or compressed nerve in the lower spine.
Pain intensity can vary from a slight irritation to a sharp, burning feeling that shoots from the lower back to the leg. Numbness or a tingling sensation usually accompanies back pain. In some cases, sciatica could cause general weakness in the leg and foot, making simple movements such as lifting your foot, sitting down and standing up painful.
Where is the sciatic nerve located?
The sciatic nerve is the longest and widest nerve in the body, starting from the lower back and running through the buttocks, down the back of either leg.
It has both sensory and motor functions, responsible for supplying sensations and various movements to the lower limb.
What causes sciatica?
A herniated disc in the spinal column accounts for 90 percent of sciatic nerve pain cases.
Discs of connective tissues cushion our vertebrae, and when these get worn out due to an acute injury, overuse or other conditions, the sciatic nerves get impinged or irritated, causing pain.
Roughly 10 percent of sciatica symptoms are set off by these conditions:
- Bone spurs
- Lumbar degenerative disc disease
- Piriformis syndrome
- Spinal stenosis
- Spinal tumors
What are the symptoms of sciatica?
Pain intensity and location may vary from one person to another, but persons afflicted with sciatica will experience these common indicators:
- Back and lower limb pain – A distinct, shooting pain that starts from the lower back, and runs to your hip, or a constant pain on one side of your buttocks that extends to your thighs and feet, are the hallmark symptoms of sciatica.
- Weakness in the limb – Because the sciatic nerve supplies sensation in the lower limb, any problems with it will result in a weak and tingly feeling, especially in the back of the leg or foot.
- Reduced mobility – Responsible for various lower limb movements, an impinged sciatic nerve will have difficulty keeping your hips and legs in motion.
What are the best remedies for sciatica?
While there are various treatments available for sciatica, it is important to deal with it as soon as possible to avoid exacerbating your symptoms.
Depending on the severity of your symptoms or your doctor’s advice, you may opt for natural, medical, or surgical options.
Here’s the rundown of the common remedies aimed at getting rid of sciatica.
1. Hot and cold gel packs – This product provides immediate sciatica pain relief and inflammation control right in the comfort of your home.
Applied to an affected area, a cold pack slows down the nerves that send pain signals to your brain. It creates a numbing effect and reduces muscle spasms that cause discomfort.
A warm gel pack controls muscle tension and spasms that cause soreness. By encouraging blood, oxygen and nutrients to rush to the affected area, it accelerates the healing process. Heat also eases muscle tightness, improving your mobility and range of motion.
2. Active rest and light exercises – Because of the pain and discomfort, most people would rather stay in bed when nursing back pain. However, staying in bed and refusing to move doesn’t help at all. It may even exacerbate your back and leg symptoms.
Active rest is key to faster back pain recovery. Performing gentle exercises like walking does good to your spine without the perils of further nerve pinching. Besides, exercise can release endorphins that positively impact pain perception.
3. Stretching – Performing light stretches works great in improving spinal flexibility and strength, which could help ease pain and prevent sciatica recurrences.
If you want to take it further, why not try yoga? This study discovered that yoga is effective in reducing muscle tension that contributes to lower back pain.
4. Moving often – Staying in one position for a long period imposes too much pressure on your spine, exacerbating sciatica symptoms. Moving often or changing positions every 20 minutes can help solve this. For instance, try walking around the home or office if you’ve been sitting on your desk for an hour or so.
5. Acupuncture – One of the main components of Chinese traditional medicine, acupuncture involves inserting needles in various strategic treatment points on your body. It works by stimulating the nervous system to release chemicals that promote our body’s natural healing abilities.
6. Herbal supplements – Turmeric, garlic, arnica, Devil’s claw and St. John’s wort are the more famous anti-inflammatory herbal supplements purportedly capable of easing sciatica symptoms, but more studies are needed to validate their efficacy.
In some cases, you may need the following medical interventions to ease back pain caused by sciatica.
7. Pain medications – Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may help ease sciatica symptoms because it addresses both pain and inflammation. For severe pains, your doctor will likely prescribe stronger pain relief drugs, along with muscle relaxants to control muscle spasms.
As with all drugs, over-the-counter NSAIDs and some medications may result in adverse effects, especially with prolonged use.
8. Physical therapy – Most sciatica symptoms go away in two weeks. If the discomfort persists, you need to see your doctor, who might refer you to a physical therapist. This medical professional will design an exercise treatment program aimed at reducing inflammation and pain, improving physical function and helping prevent the recurrence of sciatica.
9. Epidural injections – If you’re not scared of the needle, have a doctor inject steroids in your lower back close to your spinal cord and nerve roots. Steroids work by reducing the production of inflammatory chemicals and lessening your nerve fibers’ sensitivity to pain. Some women resort to epidural injections to minimize pain during childbirth.
10. Surgery – For sciatica back pain that lasts for more than six weeks despite various treatments, your doctor may refer you to a specialist, who may consider putting you under the knife. Overall, only very few sciatica sufferers are recommended to undergo surgery, though.
Most sciatica symptoms go away after two weeks with various treatments. The key is to start with natural remedies and opt for medical treatments if you experience a worsening progression of your symptoms.
How about you? Do you have sciatica back pain remedies that you swear by? If you want to share something or ask anything, contact us.