Anyone who suffers from sciatica understands how this type of complex pain can significantly interfere with day-to-day life. Sciatica is not just general back pain, nor is it limited to your back.
Living with sciatica can be difficult because the intense pain can limit movement and affect your ability to live up to your responsibilities, engage in recreational activities, and enjoy life.
Understanding sciatica pain
Sciatica is a common type of back pain, affecting the sciatic nerve and extending pain down the lower back and usually one leg, maybe both, moving to the foot and toe areas. The sciatic nerve is the longest and widest nerve in the human body.
It contains the entire vertebrae or bony structure of the spine with oval-shaped discs, called herniated discs, that form the spine. These discs serve as cushions for your spine as you stand, walk, sit, twist, lift or sleep, moving your body through necessary active tasks.
What causes sciatica?
The most common cause of sciatica is a slipped or herniated disc. In fact, herniated discs are responsible for over 90% of sciatica cases. A herniated disc develops when the three parts of the spinal column — the individual bones in the spine, the nerves, and the discs — become disrupted by a herniated disc, putting pressure on the sciatic nerve.
Any pressure on this nerve can cause pain in the lower back, legs and feet. Sciatica pain may worsen if you’re overweight, don’t exercise regularly, wear high heeled shoes or sleep on a mattress that is too soft. You can also make lifestyle changes that help to treat your sciatica pain.
If a disc in the spine is pushed out of place, a shooting pain can erupt through the length of the nerve.
What treatments work to stop your sciatic pain?
In some cases, sciatic pain can be totally relieved. Physical therapy exercises can strengthen your spine and lower body to help alleviate the pain from sciatica.
Another option is epidural steroid injections, that reduce inflammation in the painful area around the sciatic nerve. These injections reduce acute pain but don’t get at the root of the cause of your sciatica.
Heat, ice, and muscle relaxants may be prescribed for a short time to relieve the pain. Other treatment options include over-the-counter medications for pain as well as prescription pain medications.
What lifestyle changes are recommended to treat sciatic pain?
Some changes in the lifestyle of people with sciatica include regular exercise and proper posture techniques when standing, sitting, lifting or sleeping.
Regular exercise tends to decrease stress on the back and helps the body stay active within the limits of your pain. Exercise can also assist in stretching and strengthening your back and stomach muscles.
If you sit for long periods of time, use a stool to bring your knees above your hips. This will relieve the pressure on your lower back.
Avoid having a wallet or cellphone in your back pocket while sitting, because they can throw off your body’s posture. Try not to sleep on your stomach; this incorrectly stretches your back and lower lumbar region, increasing pain and numbness to your legs and feet.
Avoid wearing high heeled shoes, which can put increased pressure on your back and lower extremities.
Seek professional treatment
Sciatica doesn’t usually get better on its own. Without treatment, you risk complications that can cause more pain, along with a loss of bladder and bowel function. If you’re suffering from the pain of sciatica, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with Dr. David Berkower, DO at Berkower Pain & Spine Rehabilitation.