Some Words on Sciatica

Sciatica is a pain caused by the compression and/or irritation of the sciatic nerve. Your sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body, running from the back of your pelvis, through your buttocks, and all the way down both of your legs. Symptoms may vary from a pain, numbness, and/or a tingling sensation that starts from the lower lumbar and goes down to the legs, foot, and toes. Pain can range from mild to severely painful and can worsen through sneezing, coughing, or sitting for long periods of time.

People may also experience muscle weakness in the affected leg.

Sciatic pain usually disappears within a few weeks, but in some severe cases it may last for over a year. If symptoms are persistent, severe, or continue to worsen over time, patients should see a their physician. If a patient experiences loss of sensation between legs and buttocks and/or loss of bladder, he/she should should call 911.

In many cases, sciatica is cue to a herniated or “slipped” disc. This means that one of the discs between the bones and spine is damaged and presses on the nerves. A less common cause is spinal stenosis. Spinal stenosis is the narrowing of the nerve passages in the spine; it is a spinal injury, infection ,or growth within the spine. One can decrease the risk of developing a back injury or slipped disc that can lead to sciatica by having good posture, exercising regularly, and stretching before and after exercise.

Most cases of sciatica will pass around six weeks without the need for treatment. To reduce symptoms, taking over-the-counter painkillers, using hot or cold packs or exercising may help help. In more serious cases, one may have to follow a planned exercise programmed under the  guidance of a physiotherapist.

A physiotherapist can either give injections of painkilling or anti-inflammatory medication into the spine or prescribe strong painkillers. In severe cases, surgery may be needed to adjust the issue in the spine.

One of the biggest causes of Sciatica is lifting or handling objects incorrectly. These steps will help prevent back injury.

  • Start in a good position - When lifting objects, feet should be apart, one leg slightly forward to maintain balance. When lifting, let legs take strain by bending back, knees and hips slightly, but do not stop or squat. Tighten stomach muscles. Legs should not be straighten before lifting, as you may strain your back on the way up.
  • Keep load close to waist- The heavy object should be as close to the body for as long possible, with the heaviest objects nearest to the body.
  • Avoid twisting back or leaning sideways. Your shoulders should be level and face the same direction as the pelvis. Turning by moving your feet is better than twisting and lifting at the simultaneously.
  • Keep head up - once the heavy object is secure, make sure head is looking straight and not down.
  • Know your limits - There is a major difference with lifting and safely lifting. If one has any doubt, he/she should seek help.

In terms of posture, one needs to stand upright with head facing forwards with a straight back. Weight should be balanced evenly on both feet and legs must be kept straight. One should also sit upright with support in the small of your back. The knees and pelvis should be level and the feet should be positioned flat on the floor. Some people find it more comfortable to provide support to the small of the back by placing a rolled up towel or cushion under the small of the back.

Regular exercise can reduce the risk of developing sciatica by slowing down the age-related deterioration of the discs in the back. It can also help keep your supporting back muscles strong and able. One should warm up and cool down appropriately before and after any strenuous physical activity such as a sports activity or a workout. The warm-up and cool-down of any exercise should be incorporated in stretching exercises.

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