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What is Sciatica: Sciatica Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

Back pain can be a difficult experience mostly because it comes in all different shapes and sizes. Sometimes it is a burst of pain, and other times it is a long-lasting pain that will not subside. Due to all the variables that come with back pain, it can be hard to identify what the cause is. However, one of the more easily identifiable causes is sciatica. Not familiar with the meaning of sciatica? Well then, let’s learn more about what sciatica is, what the symptoms are, and what can cause it!

What is Sciatica?

A sciatica diagnosis normally refers to pain caused by irritation of the sciatic nerve. This pain can range from a mild pain to a more severe, debilitating pain. It generally affects only one side of your body.

So, what is the sciatic nerve? This is a nerve that runs the length of your lower back, through the buttocks, and down your legs to just below the knee. Due to the length of this nerve, pain can originate from various parts of the body, but the usual spot is the lower back.

What Causes Sciatica?

The usual cause for sciatica is a herniated disk. However, sciatica has a number of potential causes. Below you can find the most common causes and other potential causes listed below. 

Causes of sciatica:

  • Herniated disk (a ruptured or slipped disk)
  • Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spine in the lower back)
  • Spondylolisthesis (where a desk slips forward over the vertebra below it)
  • Cauda equina syndrome (a rare condition that affects nerves in the lower part of the spinal cord)
  • Pregnancy
  • Tumors within the spine that may compress of the root of the sciatic nerve
  • Infections that affect the spine
  • Injuries to the spine

While you can’t prevent all causes of sciatica, there are a number of factors to keep in mind when looking to prevent this condition.

Risks factors for sciatica:

  • Age – Those who are in their 30’s to 40’s have a higher risk of developing sciatica
  • Profession or hobbies: any activity that requires lifting heavy loads for long periods
  • Stationary lifestyle: those who sit for long periods without physically moving are more likely to develop sciatica

Sciatica Symptoms

When trying to determine if you may be experiencing sciatica, there are a number of symptoms that you can check. Those are listed below:

  • Sharp pain anywhere along the sciatic nerve
  • Numbness in your leg(s)
  • Shooting pain in your leg that makes it difficult to stand
  • A tingling sensation in your feet and toes
  • Pain in your hip or buttocks
  • Experiencing pain when you sit

If you are experiencing one or more of these symptoms, feel free to contact us to discuss your treatment options. 

How Long Does Sciatica Last?

The length of how long sciatica lasts varies greatly and depends on how the pain is affecting you. Sciatica can be an acute, or sharp, sensation of pain, or it can be a long-lasting, chronic pain. 

If you have been experiencing mid sciatic nerve pain for a month or longer, you should consult a doctor.

How To Treat Sciatica

There are a number of sciatica treatments that range from non-surgical at-home methods to surgical procedures. Examples of these are hot or cold compresses, pain medications, stretching, and other exercises. Below we have listed a number of treatments that can be considered.

Ways to alleviate sciatica pain:

  • Stretches that externally rotate the hip (i.e. knee to opposite shoulder stretches, standing hamstring stretch). There is no one-size-fits-all exercise for those with sciatic nerve pain, so do a stretch that feels best for you.
  • Exercises such as walking
  • Over-the-counter painkillers
  • Hot or cold compression packs to reduce swelling and pain.
  • Walking and sitting with good posture and wearing supportive shoes
  • Maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle to help reduce risks of obesity and diabetes

Long term treatments:

  • Physical therapy
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Prescription painkillers
  • Lumbar laminectomy (a widening of the spinal cord in the lower back to reduce pressure on the nerves)
  • Discectomy (the partial or entire removal of a herniated disk)

It is important to know the cause of your sciatica pain so the correct course of treatment can be prescribed. Contact us or call 253-841-8939 to learn more or set up an appointment with one of our physicians today.

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