Suffering from sciatica and living with pain can disrupt your life. It affects everything from sitting at your desk to standing in the kitchen while making a meal.
The term “sciatica” means any pain or symptom that causes numbness or sensation like tingling along the sciatic nerve. Sciatic nerve pain is not a proper diagnosis, but a comprehensive outline of the pain you experience helps doctors effectively assess your pain to determine the source.
The sciatic nerve runs down the lower back through the hips and into each leg. Usually, when a patient has sciatic nerve pain, it only affects one side of the body.
Common Causes of Sciatica
Most commonly, a herniated disc causes sciatica. Other lower back conditions can be attributed to sciatic nerve pain:
- spinal stenosis
Sciatica is painful if there is a pinched nerve from a bone spur or tumor pressing on the nerve.
Types of Sciatica
The sciatic nerve’s compression causes neurogenic sciatica, caused by several things, such as bulging discs to tight muscles. The discs can bulge, herniate, or burst, which causes pressure on the nerves along the spine. The direct pressure on the spinal cord also compresses the sciatic nerve and tight muscles from the buttocks and upper thigh.
Pain is typically worse in the leg than in the back. Depending on how extreme the pressure is, symptoms may vary, but the pain is often described as sharp, shooting, and even burning. Numbness, hot and cold sensations, muscle weakness, and tingling are all common.
This form of sciatic nerve pain is associated with abnormal neurological exam findings like loss of standard reflexes, sensory changes, and muscle weakness.
Referred pain is caused by a muscle or joint problem in the spine or pelvis. It is not a proper form of sciatica but mirrors the pain and symptoms. It is crucial to determine the root cause of this type of pain. This type of sciatic nerve pain is dull and achy, not usually giving off a strong sensation like tingly pins or needles.
Referred pain is not caused by a pinched nerve; instead, a sprain or strained joints and muscles.
Symptoms of Sciatica
Sciatica’s trademark symptom is pain that radiates from your lower spine to the buttocks or down the back of the leg. Pain or discomfort may be felt anywhere along the nerve path.
Pain can vary from a mild, dull ache to a sharp, burning sensation or severe pain. Sciatica pain can be worsened by prolonged sitting or even coughing and sneezing. Some people experience numbness, tingling, or muscle weakness in the affected area.
Risk Factors for Sciatic Nerve Pain
There are multiple reasons you may experience sciatica, including:
- Age: age-related changes in the spine can cause bone spurs and compressed nerves
- Obesity: Excessive body weight can cause extra weight and pressure on the spine and trigger spinal changes that cause sciatica.
- Diabetes: Fluctuating blood sugar increases your risk for nerve damage.
- Long Periods of Sitting: People who have sedentary lifestyles are much more likely to develop sciatica than active people.
While sciatic nerve pain may not be altogether avoidable, there are ways to protect your back from recurring pain:
- Regular Exercise: Keep your back muscles healthy and focus on core strength in the abdomen and lower back. This is essential for correct alignment.
- Good Posture When You Sit: Sit with lower back support, armrests, and a swivel base to help your posture. Keep your knees and hips level, and add a small pillow at the small of your back to maintain its standard curve.
- Good Body Mechanics: Be mindful of your body during normal daily activities and physical labor. If you stand for long periods of time, alternate propping your feet up on a small box. When lifting something heavy, bend at the knees instead of relying on your back. Have help lifting large items so you don’t put unnecessary stress on your muscles or joints.