How can I get relief from sciatica?
Sciatic nerve pain or sciatic neuritis
The largest nerve in the body is the sciatic nerve, both in terms of length and thickness (it is about as big around as your thumb). It starts in the low back from five different levels, or nerve roots, of the spinal cord and ends at the big toe. The sciatic nerve supplies muscles with motor impulses and the skin with sensory feelings. This is why when it gets into trouble it can cause weakness in the leg as well as numbness anywhere along its length. Pain that arises from the sciatic nerve can be tremendous, just like the large size of the nerve. If the nerve becomes irritated or inflamed it is called sciatic neuritis, or sciatica.
The most common cause of sciatica is pressure and irritation placed on any of the nerve roots t0hat make up the sciatic nerve. Since the place where the sciatic nerve roots branch from the spine is located very close to the lower back spinal discs, anything that might cause these discs to bulge or enlarge due to herniation (a “slipped disc”) would affect the sciatic nerve – and it often does. When a bulged or herniated disc puts pressure on a nearby nerve root where it branches off from the spine (nerve root),it can hurt a little or it can hurt terribly, depending on the size of the area that is contacted and how much pressure is being applied. The pain can be felt all along the path of that nerve or just one area, and besides pain this pressure can also cause numbness and weakness of the areas serviced by that portion of the sciatic nerve.
Depending on the location and amount of pressure on the nerve the pain can be just in the low back, just in the butt, just in the leg, just in the calf area, and even just in the foot or big toe, or in a few or all of these areas at the same time. The classic case of sciatica is described as pain that radiates down from the top of the buttock and travels into the leg, ending at the big toe.
Facts about sciatica:
- It is common for the leg pain of sciatica to be coupled with lower back pain from a bulged or herniated spinal disc. Even so, many cases of sciatica occur with no low back pain at all.
- The sciatica leg pain is often worse than the back pain, even though both are caused by the disc herniation.
- Sciatica usually affects only one leg at a time, although it is possible to have sciatica in both legs at the same time.
- The right and left leg are affected equally, since the lumbar disc can herniated to either side of the spine.
- Sciatic neuritis pain can be extreme, like a severe toothache or burning pain, sometimes described as the flesh tearing. I have had women tell me that sciatica pain is more intense than childbirth.
- In addition to great pain, sciatica can cause a sensation of pins and needles, tingling, numbness anywhere in the leg, feet and toes, as well as weakness of the muscles.
- Sciatica will often worse with rest or inactivity, especially sitting down, since this will cause greatest pressure upon the lumbar discs and this in turn irritates the nerve roots of the sciatic nerve.
- Sleep is often very disturbed since prolonged inactivity and the effects of poor mattress support will increase the lumbar disc swelling, applying more pressure to the sciatic nerve roots.
- A person who suffers from sciatica will tend to get up during the night as the pain often worsens while in bed after a few hours sleep. Pacing the floor usually helps reduce the pain so sleep is once again possible.
- Sciatic pain frequently feels worse in the mornings, and improves as the day goes on. This occurs because normal daily activity and upright posture tend to reduce the swelling of the lumbar discs that are at the cause of sciatica.
- Fewer than 5% of people with low back pain will have a lumbar disc problem that causes sciatic nerve pain.
Sciatica treatment at home
There are many things you can do for yourself at home to minimize sciatic pain. Please refer to Easy Sciatica Home Care. For the most part, at least you should begin by:
- Find a position that reduces or minimizes the pain, as stay there.
- Avoid any position or activity that aggravates the pain.
- Try to stay minimally active, as long as no pain arises during or after this activity. This can be as minimal as simply tightening and relaxing the low back muscles or bending our ankles or knees. Movement helps.
- Apply ice to the low back and upper buttock area where you have greatest back pain. To do this correctly please see How to use a cold pack for sciatica