What is Sciatic Pain and How to Avoid it

Sciatic pain can be one of the most debilitating conditions affecting your daily activities. It’s estimated that nearly 40% of people will experience sciatic pain at one point in their lives. In this post, we will define sciatic pain, list some of the most common causes, and provide solutions on how to resolve and avoid it. 

What is sciatic pain and how to avoid it

What Is Sciatica?

Sciatica is a term that describes a painful condition caused by an irritated nerve that originates in the lumbar spine. The nerve is made up of 5 nerve roots that exit the spine to form the sciatic nerve. This sciatic nerve emerges through the hips and the buttocks, and extends down the back of both legs. 

One of the most common causes of sciatic pain is the result of herniated or bulging discs that put pressure on the sciatic nerve. The pain often radiates down the back of the leg and can sometimes be confused as a hamstring strain. The pain can be either constant or intermittent and can result in numbness or tingling sensation in the leg.

What are the risk factors?

  • Previous back Injury – having a previous injury can increase your risk of developing sciatica. 
  • Spondylosis / Spondylolisthesis – The narrowing of the vertebral foramen leads to compression of the nerve root resulting in sciatic pain.
  • Occupational – Heavy lifting and repetitive bending can often lead to injury and make you more susceptible to developing sciatica. 
  • Sedentary lifestyle – Sitting for prolonged periods and not exercising can lead to muscle imbalance and weakness which increases your risk. 
  • Core muscle weakness – The core muscles are essential for providing a brace for the lumbar spine. When they become weakened you become more at risk of inuring your spine and/or developing sciatica. 
  • Obesity – Your spine is a vertical column that functions best in a neutral position. When your weight is excessive, it can place more pressure on the spinal discs causing your muscles to work harder to support your body. 

How is sciatica diagnosed?

A thorough evaluation of the spine is conducted to determine the root cause of your pain. Active movement tests, muscle testing, reflexes, and specialized tests such as a straight leg raise are typically performed to localize the source of the problem.

Group yoga class stretching

How is it treated?

  • Rest – Rest and activity modification are the most underrated and important aspects of managing this condition. Identifying what triggers the pain and modifying your daily routine and lifestyle will be important to allow adequate healing. Typically avoiding prolonged sitting, standing, and bending of the spine are good places to start. Lying down eliminates the forces of gravity and can provide relief. 
  • Prescription medication – Your doctor will typically prescribe some anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDs) which helps alleviate the pain. Muscle relaxers can also be prescribed to reduce muscle spasms. 
  • Spinal Injections – A specialist can administer epidural corticosteroid injections which can help alleviate much of the pain and allow you to move better and perform your daily activities with less pain. 
  • Physical Therapy – Working with a physical therapist can be extremely helpful. Modalities such as ice, heat, and/or electrical stimulation can help manage the pain. Education on posture, body mechanics, and activity modification will be important to learn early in the process to avoid aggravating the condition. Manual therapy in the form of soft tissue mobilization, massage, and exercise instruction will guide and speed the healing process.  

A Final Word

Sciatica can typically be treated conservatively and may not require surgery. Rest and learning how to protect your spine by modifying your activity is typically all that is needed to improve your level of pain. Strengthening your core and improving your level of fitness will help to prevent recurrences. 

If you think you may have the symptoms of what you think is sciatica, don’t hesitate to reach out to us so when can get you on the road to recovery.