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How do you know if you have Sciatica?

Are you disturbed continuously by a pain that makes you uncomfortable while sitting or walking?

Do you feel numbness or a tingly sensation into one of your legs or feet?

How about when you wake up in the morning with that stiff sore low back?

If your answer to any of these is yes… then you shouldn’t worry anymore.

As your expert, I am here to help you understand what sciatica is and guide you on how to prevent it. 

I´ve also got some great tips and advice as how to manage it if you have already been diagnosed.

What is sciatica?

The human body is designed to work efficiently with the ability to restore itself to function when and if some form of a strain should occur that pulls it out of equilibrium.

However, there are some instances, where clearly something has malfunctioned. 

Either because we have not been taking good enough care of ourselves – in many cases a lack of exercise – or that we may have lost that delicate balance between rest and play.

Most of the activities we perform these days do not give us many opportunities to move around enough. We are always sitting at our desks, or moving around in cars and buses, and without realising, we limit our physical activity.

Heavy lifting, poor sitting postures, and general lack of exercise can strain us and in-turn affect specific nerves that are important in the control of how our bodies work.

The most common nerve affected in the low back is
called the sciatic nerve,
and the condition that follows is identified as sciatica.

Sciatica is just a description, not a diagnosis.  It is actually a set of symptoms that can be linked to an underlying spinal condition. 

It refers to the pain that radiates along this nerve, usually from the low back buttock area into the leg and may continue into the foot.

I know you’re wondering what a sciatic nerve is… simply put,
a sciatic nerve is the main nerve in your body that is responsible for controlling muscles and sensation into your legs. 

It is actually made up of five nerves that come together to form this one nerve.

The sciatic nerve is the single longest and widest nerve in the entire body.  At its widest point is can be as big as an adult thumb.

 

Lack of physical activity is one of the key triggers behind the cause of this condition.  However, there are other risk factors that need to be considered, such as: age, height, stressful lifestyle, tobacco smoking, and constant exposure to vibrations from the vehicles.

 

What is a Pinched Nerve?

A pinched nerve (also known as nerve compression) occurs when a bony or soft tissue structure causes pressure onto a nerve.  This leads to irritation or damage to it, and thus inflammation and pain. (Isaikin, 2011; Savrun et al., 2014).

The nervous system is divided into two parts. 

The central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system.  Everything contained within our spine and head is the central part, and everything that extends from there is the peripheral part.

Studies show that whenever you have a pinched nerve, your body will automatically send you warning signals in the form of pain.  (Braga Silva et al. (2017)). Therefore, it is really important not to ignore these messages that persist in your body.

  • Do you sometimes feel a pain that originates from your lower back and seers down the back of your leg?
  • Do you sometimes feel pain or numbness in your hands and fingers?

All these could be signs that there is a pinched nerve in the affected areas.

What causes pinched nerves?

Generally maintaining a healthy lifestyle which includes moderate exercise, while avoiding heavy lifting and chronic bad postures… will keep those pinched nerves at bay.

Some of the more common causes include:

  • herniated discs
  • bone spurs
  • spinal arthritis
  • repetitive motions
  • holding the body in one position for an extended period
  • unexpected trauma
  • and sometimes pregnancy because of the increased weight and water retention.

How do I know if I have a pinched nerve?

One common misconception about pinched nerves is that they can cause swelling of your arms and legs.  This is more a symptom of water retention or problems with your cardio vascular system.  Pinched nerves will only ever cause:

  1. Loss of sensation in the region that the nerve supplies
  2. acute pain that might be radiating outward
  3. tingling sensations, known as paresthesia, in the affected region
  4. weakened muscles in the affected area
  5. constant feeling that your hand or foot has ‘fallen asleep.’

These problems may worsen when you are asleep, and if any of these symptoms last for several days, it is recommended that you seek medical advice.

 

What Causes Sciatica?

We have already looked at causes of a pinched nerve, and as sciatica is an example of a pinched sciatic nerve, all of the above causes apply here too. 

There are however some medical causes that may be of interest when selecting the best model of treatment.

  1. A herniated disc occurs as the interior of the disc trickles out through its fibrous outer core. ·When this happens, it can cause inflammation to the surrounding nerve root. (Cook et al., 2013).
  2. Disc degeneration may occur for natural reasons such as aging or because of previous injury to the spine. The disc loses water, loses height and as the vertebrae above and below get closer, the nerve has less space to move.  This very often occurs in the low back area and is very often the cause of pressure on the sciatic nerve. (Cook et al.,2013).
  3. The most common cause of sciatica is characterised by narrowing of the spinal canal (Haig, 2010). The condition called lumbar spinal stenosis is mainly associated with ageing, especially among people over 60 years old.
  4. The fourth cause of sciatica happens when one vertebral body slips forward on another because of a small stress fracture (Cook et al., 2013). As this happens, the vertebral bodies may end up pinching a nerve and causing sciatica.
  5. Inflammation to the large pelvic joints at the base of the spine is also an important cause of sciatica. (Ebraheim, 2017).
  6. As the sciatic nerve weaves through the muscles in the buttock there is a small muscle called the Piriformis. This will often tighten and trap the nerve as it passes through.  (Chin et al., 2005).

 

How do you treat Sciatica?

Episodes of sciatica are generally self-limiting in 6-8 weeks.  However, if not treated effectively can re-occur and the episodes may get worse as time goes on.

Surgery may be an option in more extreme cases and the results may be positive in the short term. 

However, the literature shows that after 1 year – conservative treatment is as effective as surgical intervention.

My best advice is to look at options with physical therapy.

Physical therapy is just another name for exercise, and this is the best way to avoid developing sciatica in the first place.

According to Jeong et al. (2016), self-mobilisation techniques are an essential part of treating and managing issues associated with sciatic nerves, and in turn, these techniques can enhance the quality of life of patients diagnosed with sciatica condition.

 

Can Exercise Help?

The medical advice for low back pain and sciatica with regards to exercise has changed dramatically in the last two decades.  Recently there is a move towards early mobilization for treatment and specific exercise therapy for preventative measures.  (Kenkampha, Boonprakob & Arayawichanon, 2013).

In a study by Lee and Kang (2016) concerning the effects of exercise, the authors discovered that exercise improves the lumbar function and the quality of life among patients with nerve issues especially in the lower regions of their back.

The key exercises for managing sciatica include finding a balance between strength training and stretching specific muscle groups.  Generally, physical exercises will help enhance your spinal column and the supporting muscles and alleviating the sciatica pain (Adriana & Nicoleta, 2012).

My best advice to you is to find a specific program of stretching or strengthening exercises that you can do regularly.  Exercise has been shown to be crucial to the success of prevention and maintenance of a healthy low back. 

References

 

 

Adriana, C., & Nicoleta, M. (2012). Effects of physical therapy in patients with sciatica. ARS Medica Tomitana18(4). doi: 10.2478/v10307-012-0032-8

Braga Silva, J., Marchese, G., Cauduro, C., & Debiasi, M. (2017). Nerve conduits for treating peripheral nerve injuries: A systematic literature review. Hand Surgery And Rehabilitation36(2), 71-85. doi: 10.1016/j.hansur.2016.10.212

Chin, K., Ragab, A., Roh, J., & Bohlman, H. (2005). P14. Piriformis syndrome: a controversial and undertreated cause of sciatica. The Spine Journal5(4), S116-S118. doi: 10.1016/j.spinee.2005.05.229

Cook, C., Taylor, J., Wright, A., Milosavljevic, S., Goode, A., & Whitford, M. (2013). Risk Factors for First Time Incidence Sciatica: A Systematic Review. Physiotherapy Research International19(2), 65-78. doi: 10.1002/pri.1572

Ebraheim, N. (2017). Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction. MOJ Orthopedics & Rheumatology8(3). doi: 10.15406/mojor.2017.08.00311

Haig, A. (2010). Diagnosis and Management of Lumbar Spinal Stenosis. JAMA303(1), 71-72. doi: 10.1001/jama.2009.1946

Isaikin, A. (2011). Neck pain: causes, diagnosis, treatment. Neurology, Neuropsychiatry, Psychosomatics0(4), 94-97. doi: 10.14412/2074-2711-2011-354

Jeong, U., Kim, C., Park, Y., Hwang-Bo, G., & Nam, C. (2016). The effects of self-mobilization techniques for the sciatic nerves on physical functions and health of low back pain patients with lower limb radiating pain. Journal Of Physical Therapy Science28(1), 46-50. doi: 10.1589/jpts.28.46

Kenkampha, K., Boonprakob, D., & Arayawichanon, P. (2013). Sacroiliac Joint Mobilization Immediate Improved Clinical Features of Non-Specific Low Back Pain with Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction. Khon Kaen University Journal (Graduate Studies)13(2), 71-84. doi: 10.5481/kkujgs.2013.13.2.8

Lee, J., & Kang, S. (2016). The effects of strength exercise and walking on lumbar function, pain level, and body composition in chronic back pain patients. Journal Of Exercise Rehabilitation12(5), 463-470. doi: 10.12965/jer.1632650.325

Savrun, F., Uluduz, D., Erkol, G., & Kiziltan, M. (2014). Spinal myoclonus following a peripheral nerve injury: a case report. Journal Of Brachial Plexus And Peripheral Nerve Injury03(01), e119-e121. doi: 10.1186/1749-7221-3-18

About The Author

I am a back care expert, with over 15 years of professional experience treating 1000,s of patients with back problems. I am dedicated to creating products and solutions to help people live a pain free life.

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