Sciatica Definition, Causes and Treatment
Sciatica is a common pain condition that is mostly prevalent in the 30 to 50-year-old age group. It can be a frustrating condition as it comes without warning. You may tend to put up with sciatica because it can heal on its own in time. But if the underlying cause isn’t dealt with, it will usually flare up again.
Severe sciatica can be painful and debilitating; resulting in time taken off from work, and an inability to undertake simple daily tasks and activities. In the long-term, this can have an impact on your physical and emotional well-being.Conveniently, sciatica does respond well to self-care, and most cases aren’t serious and improve within a few weeks.
Your GP may recommend treatments for sciatica such as osteopathy, which will help you find relief, and manage any future flare-ups.The Relieve Clinic provides osteopathy in Leeds, and is one of the self-help sciatica treatments that your GP may recommend. Let’s take a more detailed look the causes and symptoms of sciatica, and how osteopathy can help.
The large nerve extending from the lower back and down the back of each leg is called the sciatic nerve. If the root of this nerve in the lower back is compressed or irritated, it may cause pain to radiate along its path.
Pain may be felt in the lower back, buttocks, hips, thighs, calves and feet. You may also feel pins and needles, numbness, burning or tingling. It’s common for only one side of the lower body to be affected.
Four out of ten people will experience sciatica at some point in their lives. Those who live sedentary or inactive lifestyles are most at risk of developing sciatica. Keeping fit and healthy is the best way to avoid sciatica.
Causes of sciatica pain can come from a number of musculoskeletal issues including:
- Disc injury
- Bulging disc
- Spinal joint degeneration
- Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the ‘tunnel’ the spinal cord passes through)
- Foraminal stenosis (narrowing of the ‘tunnel’ the spinal root passes through)
- Inflammation around the nerve
- Muscle strain
- Piriformis syndrome
- Prolonged wear on the lumbar discs
- Injury to soft tissues, such as muscles or ligaments
People with sciatica may feel varying types of pain, depending on where the nerve is affected. It may feel like a dull ache, or a jolt of sharp pain.
Often, personal habits can make sciatic nerve pain worse, such as wearing high heels, little exercise, being overweight, or sleeping on a mattress that is too soft. You may also feel symptoms become worse when sitting, sneezing or coughing. It may also be activity dependent.
Common sciatica symptoms include:
- lower back and buttock pain radiating into one or both legs
- burning feeling, tingling or pins and needles down the back of the thigh
- muscle weakness or numbness in the lower back, hip, calf or foot
While sciatica symptoms can be unpleasant, painful and potentially debilitating, it very rarely causes permanent sciatic nerve damage.
In extreme cases, sciatic nerve decompression surgery may be necessary if there is severe back pain, or leg pain which has not reduced from conventional treatment, such as pain-killers, exercise, osteopathy and steroid injections.
Urgent surgery is necessary if there is progressive weakness in the legs, or there is loss of bowel or bladder control.
Sciatic nerve pain is a common problem treated at Relieve Clinic. Osteopathic treatment can be very effective in easing the symptoms of sciatica. It has been shown to be more effective than just using painkillers and bed rest. We also try to find the underlying case of the sciatica.
Osteopathic techniques that may be used to settle down an inflamed sciatic nerve include:
- Massage to stretch surrounding soft tissues and to reduce irritation on the sciatic nerve
- Manipulation and mobilisation of joints to help increase the range of motion in the lower back
- Exercises to strengthen your lower back and the surrounding areas, to help prevent the recurrence of sciatica.
Sciatica is usually treatable and most people recover within 4 to 6 weeks. Even if you have a history of sciatica; with exercise prescription and home advice, it’s a condition that can be successfully managed, to avoid future flare ups.
Follow these 7 golden rules to manage and prevent sciatica:
1. Stay active as much possible: Inactivity delays healing, leads to more pain and means a longer recovery time. Of course, try not to overdo it; as overactivity can also lead to the same troubles brought by inactivity.
2. Keep living and working normally: Within the bounds of your sciatic nerve pain. Pain doesn’t always mean that damage is being caused.
3. Quit smoking: Smoking restricts the flow of blood and nutrients to the discs in your spine, which prevents them from healing after injury.
4. Do regular exercise: start off slowly and increase the amount. Just 30 minutes of exercise a day can make a big difference to your sciatica. As your back strengthens, pain will reduce. Exercises such as, swimming, yoga and pilates are excellent for sciatica.
5. Don’t sit for long periods: Take a break, go for a walk, or stretch. These NHS exercises are designed to ease the pain of sciatica.
6. Take painkillers if you need to: Over-the-counter medicines such as paracetamol, ibuprofen, and hot/cold gels may be helpful for controlling pain; allowing you to stay active.
7. Reintroduce activities: Slowly reintroduce activities that you’ve stopped doing.
At Relieve Clinic, our osteopathic treatment can ease the symptoms of sciatica, so you can get back to doing what you want to do.
We perform a thorough assessment to determine the source and severity of sciatic pain, and to map out an osteopathic treatment plan that is best for your lifestyle and symptoms. Each patient’s treatment plan is tailored to their unique situation. We may recommend a variety of osteopathic treatment techniques, to assist in the prevention, and management of your sciatica.
Visit our Plans & Pricing page for the treatment types we offer.