What Is Sciatica?
Sciatica refers to back pain caused by a problem with the sciatic nerve. This is a large nerve that runs from the lower back down the back of each leg. When something injures or puts pressure on the sciatic nerve, it can cause pain in the lower back that spreads to the hip, buttocks, and leg.
Symptoms of Sciatica
The most common symptom of sciatica is lower back pain that extends through the hip and buttock and down one leg. The pain usually affects only one leg and may get worse when you sit, cough, or sneeze. The leg may also feel numb, weak, or tingly at times. The symptoms of sciatica tend to appear suddenly and can last for days or weeks.
Sciatica or Other Back Pain?
Up to 85% of Americans experience some type of back pain during their lives. But this doesn’t always involve the sciatic nerve. In many cases, back pain is the result of overextending or straining the muscles in the lower back. What most often sets sciatica apart is the way the pain radiates down the leg and into the foot. It may feel like a bad leg cramp that lasts for days.
Who Gets Sciatica?
Most people who get sciatica are between the ages of 30 and 50. Women may be more likely to develop the problem during pregnancy because of pressure on the sciatic nerve from the developing uterus. Other causes include a herniated disk and degenerative arthritis of the spine.
Cause: Herniated Disk
The most common cause of sciatica is a herniated disk. Disks act like cushions between the vertebrae of your spine. These disks get weaker as you age and become more vulnerable to injury. Sometimes the gel-like center of a disk pushes through its outer lining and presses on the roots of the sciatic nerve. About 1 in 50 people will get a herniated disk at some point in life. Up to a quarter of them will have symptoms that last more than 6 weeks.
Cause: Piriformis Syndrome
The piriformis is a muscle found deep inside the buttocks. It connects the lower spine to the upper thighbone and runs directly over the sciatic nerve. If this muscle goes into spasm, it can put pressure on the sciatic nerve, triggering symptoms of sciatica. Piriformis syndrome is more common in women.
A Fat Wallet Can Trigger Piriformis
You might not think of too much cash as a source of pain, but a fat wallet can trigger piriformis syndrome. The condition can affect men who wear their wallet in the back pocket of their pants. This puts chronic pressure on the piriformis muscle and can aggravate the sciatic nerve over time. You can avoid this problem by keeping your wallet in a front pocket or jacket pocket.
To determine whether you have sciatica, your chiropractor will ask you how your pain started and where exactly it is located. You may be asked to squat, walk on your heels or toes, or raise your leg without bending the knee. These muscle tests can help your doctor of chiropractic determine if it is the sciatic nerve that is irritated.
Sciatica Relief: Ice and Heat
There are steps you can take at home to ease the pain of sciatica. A heating pad or ice pack may be especially helpful. Apply the heat or ice for about 20 minutes every two hours. Experiment to see which provides more relief, or try alternating between heat and ice.
Chiropractors frequently treat people with sciatic pain with resounding success. Treatment may include spinal adjustments, stretching, various physical modalities, and home care/instructions. Working to improve your posture is also a good way to help improve and prevent future back problems.
If you’ve had sciatica once, there’s a chance it will return. But there are steps you can take to reduce the odds:
- Exercise regularly.
Maintain good posture.
- Bend at the knees to lift heavy objects.
These steps can help you avoid back injuries that may lead to sciatica.