Sitting down in front of a desk trying to beat a deadline is hardly backbreaking work, but anyone who has experienced the pain of sciatica will tell you otherwise. Sometimes, sciatica is a sharp stinging pain you feel deep inside your left buttock, where the thighbone meets the pelvis. Some cases of sciatica may be so severe that the pain and irritation can immobilize your left leg. Other cases of “sciatica” are not sciatica at all, but are symptoms and manifestations of a chronic back problem.
If there’s any one malady that is best described as a pain in the butt, sciatica is near the top of the list. Sciatica usually occurs when a network of nerves near your left hip are compressed or irritated, but other similar forms of pain and discomfort are mistakenly associated with this disease. If you have sciatica, or symptoms of a disease similar to sciatica, here are some ways to relieve the pain and get rid of the problem.
What is Sciatica?
The sciatic nerve is the largest single nerve in the human body. The nerve starts from the lower back and runs from the buttock to the rest of the lower limb. The sciatic nerve is responsible for transmitting movement and receptor signals to the entire anatomy of the leg. When this nerve is irritated or compressed unnecessarily, you have sciatica.
Sciatica is a broad medical term used to describe symptoms that affect one of the five roots of the sciatic nerve, or the sciatic nerve itself. Sciatica is characterized by compression and/or irritation of the sciatic nerve. Sciatica is not a disease, but is a set of symptoms that can manifest other diseases or injuries, including the following:
- Herniated disc, also known as slipped disc, is a common injury suffered by many people who have lower back problems. A herniated disc occurs when the core of a spinal disc bulges out and puts unnecessary pressure on your spinal cord.
- Spinal sentosis happens when the canal that holds and protects the spinal cord compresses due to age and stress. Some cases of spinal sentosis can also be a consequence of diseases like osteoporosis.
- Piriformis syndrome. The sciatic nerve is usually positioned underneath the piriformis muscle. Fifteen percent of the population suffer from a deformity called piriformis syndrome, where the sciatic nerve runs through the piriformis muscle, causing painful compression and stress.
- Problems with trigger points. Trigger points are very sensitive knots and nodules in muscle fibers. The sensitive areas and nodules in the muscle fibers may also contribute to sciatica.
- Pregnancy. Pressure on the back, as well as on the muscles of the legs, can cause some pregnant women to suffer from sciatica especially during the last trimester of pregnancy. Sciatica is one of the most common sets of symptoms to affect a pregnant woman.
- Bad posture. The most common cause of sciatica is bad posture. If you don’t sit properly or always sleep curled up in the fetal position, you place a lot of unnecessary pressure and stress on the sciatic nerve.
Signs and Symptoms of Sciatica
If you suspect you have sciatica, you must have the following signs and symptoms:
- Pain in the lower back, buttock, leg, and/or the foot
- An inability to move the affected leg, or bend over at the lower back
- Increased, sharp pain and discomfort whenever you walk, stand on your toes, lie down, or sit down
- Loss of feeling and sensation on parts of or the whole length of the leg
Sciatica can only be confirmed by a physician or a physical therapist. If you have any of these symptoms, you should see a doctor immediately so that he or she can detect and cure the underlying cause of the compression or irritation.
Get an MRN
Magnetic resonance neurography (MRN) is one of the most effective and most advanced imaging techniques available in modern medicine. MRN is a modified version of conventional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) that highlights affected nerves and detects the causes of compression. The method is often used to detect a suspected nervous disorder so that the physician can set a course for treatment.
For minor cases of sciatica, medication may just do the trick. Here are some medications that you may take to relieve the pain:
- Analgesics. An analgesic is usually enough to dull and relieve the pain from a mild episode of sciatica. Some painkillers only relieve the pain, while other painkillers also have anti-inflammatory agents that relieve pressure caused by trigger points or an inflamed nerve. Most over-the-counter analgesics like acetaminophen, mefenamic acid, or aspirin can help relieve mild sciatica.
- Prescription medicines. Sometimes, over-the-counter analgesics don’t work, and you may need a stronger medical regimen to relieve the pain. Prescription painkillers like opioid analgesics should not be taken in without doctor’s advice, because you may suffer serious illnesses or side-effects.
- Steroid injections. Epidural steroidal injections are sometimes used to relieve extreme pain associated with sciatica. An anesthetic (usually bupivacaine) is combined with a steroid (like triamcinolone) and injected into the herniated disc, or the piriformis muscle. Steroidal injections are very rarely performed on the sciatic nerve to prevent serious damage or injury to the nervous system.
Home Remedies for Sciatica
The pain caused by sciatica can be relieved with some simple home remedies:
- Ice packs. Cold temperature can soothe the pain and reduce inflammation from the sciatic nerve or the piriformis muscle. Instead of ice cubes, place crushed ice inside an ice pack, or use a zip-lock package of frozen peas or corn kernels. The crushed ice, peas, or corn kernels mold to the shape of your leg better than ice cubes. Apply the ice pack directly to the source of irritation and pain.
- Hot packs. In time, your doctor may advise you to use hot packs 48 hours after you use cold packs. Use a hot water bottle, a heat lamp, or a heating pad to achieve this purpose. It’s advisable to switch alternately between cold packs and hot packs to relieve the pain.
- Splint. For particularly severe cases of sciatica, you may need to immobilize your leg. Apply a back splint or a leg splint and head off to your chiropractor immediately to relieve the pain from sciatica.
- Take a stretch. Mild stretching exercises can help restore feeling and sensation back into your leg. Simply stretching your leg slowly over its full range of motion may help loosen up the piriformis muscle and restore the sciatic nerve back into position. Be very careful when stretching your leg; do not make sudden movements, because you may risk severing your sciatic nerve altogether.
Opt for Surgery
Chronic cases of sciatica may need surgery. Sciatica is usually relieved or cured when a portion of the herniated disc is removed through a process called diskectomy. Another surgical process, called intradiscal electrothermoplasty (IDET), is used to destroy nerve fibers that have invaded a degenerating disc in the lumbar region. Coblation nucleoplasty is also used to relieve a slipped disc, where parts of the inflamed nucleus of the disc are destroyed to relieve pressure. Surgery can be expensive, but you can check your medical insurance to see if the procedure is covered by your existing insurance policy.
Sharp, stinging pains anywhere in your body can be a sign of something serious. While sciatica itself is not an illness, it can be a manifestation of serious back injury, or a sign of bad posture. With these simple ways to get rid of the nagging and excruciating pain of sciatica, you’ll never have to put up with that pain in the butt again.
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