Lower back pain is a common symptom frequently reported among most of the population in the United States. While low back pain generally resolves on its own, constant discomfort could signal the presence of a more serious injury or condition. A variety of factors can lead to spinal damage or injury, manifesting as low back pain; however, when the pain and discomfort include tingling sensations, numbness, and even burning sensations along the lower extremities, damage or injury to the sciatic nerve may have occurred.
Over-exercising, lifting, bending, or twisting abruptly into awkward positions, and even driving for extended periods, can strain the sciatic nerve, leading to lower back pain that radiates into the back of the legs as well as other numerous symptoms, known as sciatica.
What is Sciatica?
Approximately 5 to 10 percent of individuals experience some form of low back pain from sciatic nerve pain. Most commonly seen in people ranging from 18 to 35 years of age, the prevalence of sciatic symptoms varies tremendously from 1.6 percent throughout the general population to 43 percent in a selected working population. Unfortunately, only 30 percent of individuals suffering from sciatica seek medical attention only after experiencing these painful symptoms for a year or more. In a majority of cases, sciatica is caused by a herniated disc involving nerve root compression.
Not all individuals with lower back pain have sciatica. Lower back pain could result from various factors, most frequently seen in sedentary workers who sit behind a desk for an extended period with improper posture while not following ergonomics.
Causes for Sciatica
Several causes of sciatica include trauma from an injury, spondylolisthesis, piriformis syndrome, spinal tumors, and obesity. “Sciatica can be debilitating at times when the episode is acute. At that time, it is very difficult to carry out day-to-day activities. Some patients are advised bed rest for three to four weeks to improve their condition. Most of the symptoms settle down with non-operative management, which involves extensive rest,” said Dr. Sunil Dachepalli, senior orthopedic and joint replacement surgeon and sports medicine expert at Yashoda Hospitals.
Long-distance drivers are at a higher risk of developing sciatica because of the constant jolts on bumpy roads, which have been known to weaken the spine’s discs. Smooth roads can prevent this, though. The individual’s height can also be a component of the development of sciatica as most discs rupture backward when the person bends forward. Taller people tend to slouch forward more often, and when they bend, their center of gravity moves further away from the spine. The pressure on the spine is multiplied by the distance of the force, resulting in more pressure on the discs of taller people when they bend forward.
It’s essential to properly diagnose the presence of sciatica and determine the source of the pain and other symptoms. Sciatica caused by a common back complication, such as a spinal misalignment, may require a combination of treatments to relieve an individual’s symptoms as well as treat the underlying cause of sciatica. Dr. N. Somasekhar Reddy, a senior consultant orthopedic surgeon, stated, “In 80 percent of the cases where people treat their sciatica on time, it is found that these simple methods can help them get better with time.”
Symptoms of Sciatica
Sciatica is characterized by a sharp pain along with numbness in the leg. The affected leg may also feel weak and appear thinner than the other leg. Additionally, many individuals experience a mild tingling, dull ache, or burning sensation that can also be felt on the back of the calf or on the sole of the foot. The pain and discomfort usually worsen when one lies down and can often make getting enough rest difficult. Occasionally, redness and swelling may appear on the back. An episode of back pain that has lasted continuously for more than four weeks could suggest the presence of sciatica.
Home Remedies for Sciatica
If you’ve been diagnosed with sciatica, several remedies can help ease the pain. Foremost, ice therapy can be used on the affected area of the back to reduce swelling. Participating in regular physical activity and exercise can help strengthen the muscles and improve flexibility to prevent degenerative wear and tear changes associated with age. In addition, avoid sitting or standing for prolonged periods by taking several breaks to stand, stretch, and walk around. If you must be on your feet, rest one foot on a small stool or footrest and then switch feet throughout the day. Individuals with sciatica symptoms should also avoid wearing high heels. This type of footwear alters the body’s natural posture, adding pressure to the spine, which could aggravate your sciatica. And finally, take pressure off your back by sleeping on your side or on your back with a pillow under your knees.
While these remedies can relieve symptoms of sciatica, their effects may only be temporary, and it’s still crucial to receive immediate medical attention to diagnose any possible underlying conditions or injuries that could have developed your complications and follow with proper treatment. Chiropractic care focuses on realigning the spine through spinal adjustments and manual manipulation to decrease the stress on the spine and strengthen the structures around the vertebra and restore the body’s natural health.
Back pain is a common symptom affecting a wide range of individuals. Various factors can cause back complications, but when a person’s lower back pain begins to radiate down into the back of the legs, it could be another issue. Approximately 5 to 10 percent of individuals experience low back pain due to sciatica. Characterized as a group of symptoms rather than a single condition, sciatica can often make an individual’s lifestyle more difficult than a simple low back problem.
When the constant symptoms of low back pain are attributed to sciatica, the radiating pain and discomfort can greatly restrict an individual’s everyday lifestyle, altering their daily activities. After identifying the collection of symptoms associated with sciatica, it’s important for individuals to seek a professional medical diagnosis to determine the source of their symptoms. Once diagnosed, following treatment with a qualified healthcare specialist can help them recover from their symptoms and improve their overall health and wellness.
Sciatica is characterized as a collection of symptoms rather than a single condition. Pain and discomfort, along with tingling sensations, numbness, and burning sensations, are the most common symptoms indicating the presence of sciatica. Understanding the variety of symptoms and causes of sciatica can be important to diagnose it and follow up with treatment properly.
By Dr. Alex Jimenez
Additional Topics: Low Back Pain After Auto Injury
After being involved in an automobile accident, the sheer force of the impact can cause damage or injury to the body, primarily to the structures surrounding the spine. An auto collision can ultimately affect the bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and other tissues surrounding the spine, commonly the lumbar region of the spine, causing symptoms such as low back pain. Sciatica is a common set of symptoms after an automobile accident, which may require immediate medical attention to determine its source and follow through with treatment.
The information herein on "Understanding Sciatica: Causes & Symptom Overview" is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional, or licensed physician, and is not medical advice. We encourage you to make your own healthcare decisions based on your research and partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.
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