Do you experience sharp nerve pain? Is your work life hampered by the sudden sensation of pain, numbness or weakness in your body? Be aware. It can be sciatica. Yes, the sharp nerve pain caused by sciatica can be a major cause for concern, especially if it is severe enough to make daily chores difficult. Causing pain that radiates down from the lower back to the legs and buttocks, sciatica has become quite common that affects up to 40% of people globally. One of the biggest risk factors associated with sciatica is a sedentary lifestyle, followed by a lack of exercise and not keeping your muscles active, toned, and flexible. For this reason, it has become so widespread in urban working professionals, who typically spend a major chunk of their time sitting in chairs for hours.
What is Sciatica?
Sciatica refers to the pain caused by the compression, irritation, or inflammation of the nerve roots in the lower back. “This usually occurs due to the narrowing of the spinal canal or a herniated disc. Sciatica may bring about muscle weakness and tingling/numbness. Those suffering from this condition experience pain anywhere along the path of their sciatic nerve, which is the body’s thickest and longest nerve, running from the lower back to the legs through the buttocks,” says Dr V Bramha Prasad, Spine Surgery, APOLLO 24|7.
What are the Symptoms of Sciatica?
Sciatica itself is one of the most common symptoms of lumbar radiculopathy, a condition that causes sensations like tingling, numbness, poor reflexes, or muscle weakness along a nerve’s path. Although its symptoms can occur anywhere along the path of the sciatic nerve, those with sciatica usually feel lower back pain that radiates down their legs through their hips. Overall, around 5%-10% of patients with lower back pain suffer from sciatica. In less common cases, the pain can also be felt beginning in the hip area and radiating down your leg.
“The pain caused by this condition is typically burning, sharp, and electric. It can vary from mild to severe and worsen when you cough, twist your spine or bend down. While the human body has two sciatic nerves, one on each side, its symptoms usually occur only on one side of your body,” adds Dr Prasad. Additionally, the compression of the sciatic nerve can weaken the muscles it serves. This can make it hard to bring your thighs together, bend your knee, and point your toes/foot downwards or upwards.
Diagnosis of Sciatica
When seeking the reason behind sciatica symptoms, doctors typically begin with a medical history and an enquiry about where you feel the symptoms and what makes them worse or better. During the physical exam, your doctor may also find out what movements exacerbate the symptoms and test for decreased sensation, reflexes, and muscle strength. Depending on how your physical exam goes, the doctor might even recommend imaging and other tests like:
- Spinal X-rays
- Computed tomography (CT) scans or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Electromyography/nerve conduction velocity studies
Treatment of Sciatica
Most cases of sciatica can usually be resolved within two weeks. However, in around 20%-30% of cases, problems persist even after two years. Sciatica treatment aims at increasing your mobility and decreasing the pain. Dr Prasad shares simple self-care treatment for sciatica that includes:
- Applying hot and/or ice packs
- Taking pain-relieving medicines
- Performing gentle stretches
- Exercising regularly
In some cases, where the pain is quite severe or certain muscles in the lower body get significantly weakened or the patient loses control of the bladder, the doctor may recommend surgery.
As the number of individuals with sciatica is growing at an alarming rate, it is essential to make certain adjustments to your lifestyle to prevent the development of this condition. Dr Prasad shares the following measures to reduce the risk of sciatica:
- Exercise Regularly
The best thing you can do to prevent sciatica is to strengthen your core and back muscles by exercising often.
- Maintain a Good Posture
Bad posture is one of the major causes of sciatica. Make sure to always maintain good posture. You can do this by using chairs with armrests that properly support your back and keeping your feet on the ground while sitting.
- Mind Your Movements
Always lift heavy objects properly by keeping your back straight and bending your knees.
Sciatica is one of the most concerning and widespread problems in today’s time. It’s highly recommended to make healthy lifestyle choices to prevent it. If you experience any of the symptoms of sciatica, see a doctor immediately.