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Sciatica Pain - Treatment, Symptoms and Prevention

What is sciatica pain?

The condition known as sciatica is caused by compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve where it joins to the spinal cord in the lumbar region of the spine. The sciatic nerve is the longest in the body, traveling from the lower back, through the buttocks, behind the thigh and down the leg to the feet and toes.

Sciatica pain may be felt anywhere along the full length of the sciatic nerve; the lower back, hip, buttocks or as a shooting pain that goes down to the lower leg or feet. It may be a burning sensation, a persistent or dull ache, tingling, numbness or pins and needles; it can also be felt as a sharp pain when you move.


What are the symptoms of sciatica pain?

In addition to the different types of pain described in the paragraph above, there may be difficulty moving or walking. There may be some muscle weakness associated with sciatica, some movements may be difficult, others will make the pain more persistent and the skin around the affected area could be sensitive or painful to the touch. Muscles in the upper leg and calf may cramp or spasm with sciatica and this symptom alone is very painful.

Lying or sitting down will often ease the pain of sciatica but some people find that moving around is better for relieving the pain than resting. Coughing, sneezing, sitting for extended periods or squatting may make the pain worse. Sciatica pain is a symptom of another problem which is why it is important to see your doctor to have the real cause diagnosed so that appropriate treatment can be commenced.


How is sciatica pain treated?

Traditionally, doctors have recommended rest as the primary treatment for sciatic pain because rest allows inflammation, which may be causing the pain, to subside. Because the most debilitating symptom of sciatica is the associated pain, doctors prescribe analgesic medication for the pain, muscle relaxants to ease muscle spasms and NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) to reduce inflammation and pressure on the nerve.

In severe cases, cortisone or anesthetic injections may be given into the spine. For persistent cases, surgery may be an option, to remove bone or a herniated disc that may be causing the pain. Before surgery is considered, additional testing will be needed to determine the exact cause of the sciatica pain.

Recent clinical trials have discovered that rest isn't always the most effective early treatment and that many patients find that activity helps to relieve their sciatic pain better. Physical therapy is considered a common treatment for many cases of sciatica pain, either immediately or after the worst of the pain has subsided. Exercises that strengthen the core muscles of the upper body can help to relieve pain and the effects of a ruptured disc.

Medication is used to relieve the pain but it doesn't treat the cause of the pain so you should try not to simply rely on medication for controlling your sciatica. Your doctor will give you a thorough examination and take note of your medical history to come to a diagnosis about your condition.

You may also be sent for ultrasound, CT scan, MRI or x-rays to locate the exact cause so that you can begin the most appropriate treatment. Correcting the underlying cause of sciatica pain is necessary to ensure healing and to reduce the possibility of the condition becoming chronic.

Alternate therapies such as massage, chiropractic, homeopathy, acupuncture and herbal medicine all have treatments for sciatica and these are well-worth investigating. Many patients use alternate medicine in conjunction with traditional medicine and medication.


What can I do at home to relieve sciatica pain?

Sciatica pain can strike at any time and it is helpful to have some strategies to relieve your pain. Applying hot and cold compresses alternatively will help to relieve your pain in the short term. Keep each compress in place for about 20 minutes and then change. After the initial pain has subsided, a heat pack on the painful area is often the most effective home treatment you can use to ease pain. Heat helps to relax the muscles which tend to spasm when the pain of sciatica strikes. When you are able to, stretching the muscles of the back, hip and thigh reduces pressure on the sciatic nerve.

Regular exercise is recommended for all healthy people but it is especially useful for those who suffer with sciatica. Just 30 minutes of moderate walking or swimming, 4 or 5 days a week will keep you fit and healthy with a strong back.


Is there anything I can do to prevent sciatica pain?

There are preventative measure you can take to reduce the possibility of sciatica re-occurring. Strong muscles of the torso help to support the spine correctly and prevent damage to the vertebrae and discs. Strong abdominal and lower back muscles help maintain good posture with the correct alignment of the back and neck. Regular exercise will keep you generally fit and healthy and help the body to prevent injury and heal faster, while daily stretching exercise keep you supple and your core muscles balanced.

Pay particular attention to your posture when you are sitting with good support for your lower back. Your knees should be level with your hips when you are sitting for extended periods. Use proper techniques when you are lifting objects, using your legs rather than your back when you lift.

If you are working in a forward position, like when you are gardening, for example, take regular short breaks and stretch your back, neck and shoulders. When standing for long periods, shift your weight from one foot to the other to relieve tension on your back. When you need to bend forward, bend your knees first to lessen strain on the lower back.

The combination of bending or lifting and twisting the torso is a recipe for sciatica pain; think before you bend forward, lift or twist. With attention and practice, you will be able to eliminate many of the movements that cause sciatica pain.

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