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Sciatica

Sciatica is a symptom of a medical condition rather than a medical problem on its own. It refers to leg and back pain. Weakness, tingling, and numbness that originate in the lower back and goes down to the large sciatic nerve in the leg, are together termed as sciatica. A common form of back and leg pain, most of the times the sciatica patient gets better with time. But sometimes the patient may have to go for surgical treatment.

Causes
The sciatic nerves, the largest nerves in the human body, start from the spinal cord and run down to the back of each leg in the human body. Whenever this nerve is pressurised or damaged, the person may suffer from sciatica.

  • Herniated (slipped) disc: Sudden twisting, motion or jerk in the back is believed to cause herniated disc and sciatica. It is also referred to as slipped disc, protruding disc, bulging disc, ruptured disk, or a pinched nerve.
  • Spinal stenosis: A common condition in the adults over the age of sixty, Spinal stenosis is narrowing of the spinal cord canal that causes sciatica.
  • Degenerative disc: Like all other body parts, the disc also degenerates with ageing. One or more degenerated discs in the lower portion of the back can disturb the sciatic nerve.
  • Piriformis syndrome: Sciatica can also be caused when the piriformis muscles in the buttocks strangle or compress the sciatic nerve, which is lying beneath these muscles.
  • Pregnancy: Weight gain, hormonal changes, uterus pressing the sciatic nerve can cause sciatica during pregnancy.
  • Muscle strain: In some cases, strained muscles exert pressure and irritate the sciatic nerve root, and result into sciatica.
  • Spinal tumour: It is a rare condition, but a spinal tumour can disturb the root of the nerve and generate sciatica symptoms.
  • Infection: Though it is a rare scenario, an infection in the lower back can irritate the sciatica nerve.

Symptoms
While for some people sciatica pain can be extreme, for many the pain can be occasional and tolerable. However, the infrequent spells of distress, pain and irritation can become severe, if ignored. The symptoms depend upon the affected area of the nerve.

  • Pain in the hip or leg that is worse when sitting
  • Numbness, weakness or difficulty moving the foot or leg.
  • A constant pain on one side of the rear.
  • Tingling or burning sensation down the leg.
  • The discomfort gets worse after coughing, laughing, sneezing or bending backwards.

Prevention

  • While standing, balance your body weight evenly on both the feet and keep legs, back and head straight.
  • Sit with a straight back, with your knees and hips levelled and feet flat on the floor.
  • Maintain flexibility.
  • Yoga and pilates can help strengthen the muscles of the back.
  • Sleep on a mattress that is hard enough to support the weight of the body. Don’t use a pillow in such a way that it forces your neck to be in a steep angle.
  • Lift object from the ground with straight back while bending your knees.
  • Maintain the weight limit recommended for your body.

Treatment

  • Don’t bend, lift heavy objects, or sit in the same position for long hours.
  • Apply heating pads, or ice bags or cold packs around the affected area.
  • Over-the-counter medicines available in the market can reduce the pain.
  • Lie down on a firm surface with a pillow between the legs.
  • Continue to do your routine activities instead of constantly lying down in the bed, as the pain will not ease out overnight.
  • Acupuncture can help treat the sciatica pain.
  • Body massages can give a lot of relief in the pain, as it increase the blood circulation and relaxes the muscles.
  • Well-guided physiotherapy and stretching exercises can also give relief.
  • In extreme cases surgical treatment is also advised.

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