Sciatica is lower back pain that can also be felt as a shooting pain down the back of your leg. Knowing how the sciatic nerve works will help you recognize this cause of intense leg and back pain.
Sciatica is a particular type of lower back pain or leg and back pain that comes from injury or pressure on your sciatic nerve. Your sciatic nerve is a large nerve formed by roots coming out of your spinal cord in the lower part of your back. These roots come together to form two large nerves that run down the back of each of your legs.
The reason sciatica can cause lower back pain as well as leg pain and weakness is that your sciatic nerves control the muscles in the backs of your knees and lower legs. These two nerves also supply feeling to the backs of your thighs, parts of your lower legs, and the soles of your feet.
Sciatica is caused by pressure on the many nerve roots that make up the sciatic nerve, for that reason different people feel sciatic pain in different places.
Situated between the bones of the spine, intervertebral disks act as cushions and shock absorbers. If they become damaged and start to bulge out between the bones of your lower back (a condition known as a slipped or herniated disk), they can press on your sciatic nerve roots and cause sciatica. Herniated disks are normally the most common cause of sciatica.
Symptoms of sciatica may include:
- Lower back pain
- Shooting pain down the back of the leg
- Burning leg and back pain
- Tingling and numbness of the back or leg
- Weakness of the back or leg
Not everyone has experiences back pain with sciatica. You may only experience tingling and numbness. It all depends on which roots of the nerve are affected. Although sciatica can occur on both sides, it is usually one-sided. Sciatic pain may get worse with sitting, walking, bending, sneezing, or coughing.
Diagnosing and Treating Sciatica
Diagnosis and assessment of sciatica can be done using different approaches:
During the physical examination, you may be asked to lift your leg while lying on your back, this is called the Straight leg raise test, — shooting pain down the back of your leg while in this position is a common sign of sciatica.There is also a test called slump test, which is a simple way to put the sciatic nerve under gradually increasing tension to look for possible entrapment areas, it starts with the patient in a seated position with their chin down towards their chest, slowly extending the lower leg at the knee, applying progressive stretch to the nerve; here again shooting pain down the back of your leg while in this position is a common sign of sciatica.
MRI and X-ray:
An X-ray of your back and an MRI are common tests sometimes used to help diagnose sciatica.An MRI can determine if the cause is sciatica is due to something pressing or rubbing on the sciatic nerve, like a slipped disk for example.
Treatment for sciatica:
Treatment will depend on the severity of your condition. In nearly all cases you will be recommended some exercise therapy. If the pain is severe then you may be given pain relieving medication, or even steroid injections to help ease the pain.
Remaining active is very important. The worst thing you can do is to just lay down and rest. Without proper exercise, low back muscles become weak and deconditioned, leaving them less able to support the back and the spine
The secret is to move as much as you can, but avoiding activities that aggravate your sciatic pain. The more you irritate the sciatic nerve the longer you will take to heal.
Once the cause of sciatica is diagnosed, an exercise programme is an important part of rehabilitation as it can work towards preventing future recurrences.
Here are some simple exercises and stretches you can do at home to help easy the pain and improve your flexibility:
Sciatic Nerve Glide Floss
Single Leg Back Stretch
Spinal Cord Glide
Lying down on your back, and bend your hip until you can feel a stretch behind your thigh (in the hamstring muscles). Use a towel (or yoga strap) to apply some overpressure and create a stronger stretch.
Hold the stretch for about 12 to 15 seconds, repeat 2x.
When it comes to sciatica, massage can also be helpful. One of the main benefits of massage is soothing tense muscles. When your muscles are tense, they can put more pressure on your nerves, including your sciatic nerve. Massaging these tense muscles may help to reduce pressure on your sciatic nerve.
Soft tissue massage may also help to increase your pain threshold by stimulating the release of endorphin, relieving pain, and causing an increased feeling of well-being
Speak to us if you suspect you have sciatica.