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Sciatica Pain: What You Need to Know

There is nothing quite like the shooting, often crippling, pain that moves like a laser down one side of your spine, buttock, and along the back of your leg. Sometimes, the pain from sciatica is simply a mild ache; you can manage to go about your life without too much disruption.

However, the sciatica pain can also be excruciating, and it may seem like you are being electrocuted. The pain from sciatica can leave you with numbness and/or tingling in one leg and foot and can put you on the sidelines of life.

"If you have sudden, unexplained back pain that is severe, you must seek medical attention right away. Emergency medical care is even more critical if your pain follows an injury or if you can no longer control your bowels or bladder."

Understanding what causes sciatica and how to minimize your risk of developing this painful condition will go a long way in lowering your risk of ever going through this pain!

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What causes sciatica?

The sciatic nerve runs through the back of your body, from your lower back, through your buttock, and down through your leg. When this nerve becomes irritated or compressed, it causes pain. This pain may feel differently depending on the cause, irritation, and compression level, and it may differ between people.

Typical sciatica symptoms include tingling, burning, or shooting pain along the length of the nerve. Sometimes, there is numbness in the back of the leg and/or a feeling of weakness. Sciatica often feels worse when you are seated or when you bend or twist at the spine. Many find the pain is worse when they try to stand up or when they are lying down.

  • There are several causes of sciatica, and most of these lie within the spine: herniated lumbar disc, lumbar spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease, and spondylolisthesis.
  • On occasion, sciatica develops from a spasm or inflammation within the lumbar and pelvic muscles or because of poor function in the sacroiliac joint.
  • Very rarely, a tumor or blood clot within the spine may cause sciatica.

What are my risk factors for developing sciatica?

While any one of us can develop sciatica, there are a few risk factors that may increase your risk.

  • Unfortunately, simple aging is a risk factor for developing sciatica because natural wear and tear affect our bones and the discs in our spines. So, aging well by eating nutritiously and staying fit is essential.
  • Another risk factor that we can better manage is weight; maintaining an ideal body composition allows our spines to function optimally. However, if you have ever injured your spine or lower back, this also puts you at an increased risk of developing sciatica.
  • Any work that has you sitting for long periods puts you at risk of a host of lower back issues, including sciatica. Instead, consider opting for a standing desk or taking walking and standing micro-breaks throughout your workday.
  • Does your work have you lifting heavy items repeatedly? Be sure to lift correctly and know your limits so that you can avoid back pain.
  • If you are a smoker, consider giving it up as nicotine has been found to damage tissues, including the discs in our spines.
  • If you have osteoarthritis, know that this can damage your spine and put you at an increased risk of sciatica.
  • Similarly, diabetes is a disease that can damage nerves, including the sciatic nerve.

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How can I best care for sciatica?

While it depends on the cause on how to relieve sciatica pain, sciatica often resolves over time and with straightforward treatment. However, as with any pain or dysfunction in your body, be sure to get an accurate diagnosis to know exactly what you are dealing with; proper diagnosis means optimal treatment.

An appropriate treatment plan means that you can get back to life sooner!

There is often confusion about when to use ice and when to use heat.

  • Remember that ice is excellent for reducing any swelling and pain. Try ten minutes of icing, with ten minutes of rest, then ice again. I keep a large bag of frozen peas in my freezer for a convenient ice pack that molds to any area of my body.
  • Heating pads, hot water bottles, or heat packs will ease your sciatica pain by causing your blood vessels to dilate, which means more healing action from your blood, including oxygen and nutrients. Heat also allows your muscles to relax from their state of tension and spasm! Perform some gentle stretches to lengthen out these warm, relaxed muscles.

You may also want to seek treatment from a healthcare professional. Many find sciatic pain relief through physical therapy, massage therapy, chiropractic treatment, medications, and spinal injections of corticosteroids.

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