Sciatica is a condition characterized by pain that travels along the sciatic nerve. This nerve is a large-sized nerve that originates in the lower back and travels via the buttock and down the leg. Certain conditions that cause compression of the sciatic nerve can cause sciatica that can range from minor irritation to debilitating pain.
Even though the doctor manages sciatica with medications and encouraging rest, any underlying health condition should be dealt with early to keep the pain away.
What are the possible causes?
Various conditions affecting the spine can compress the sciatic nerve and result to sciatica. The usual cause is intervertebral disc herniation that occurs once the soft-fluid filled disc that provides a cushion between every vertebrae bulge into the spinal canal and compresses the sciatic nerve.
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint condition where the cartilage in the joints breaks down. This condition can result to the development of bone spurs that grow close to the ends of the bones. In the spine, these bony growths can invade the spinal canal and press on the nerve. In rare cases, the formation of abscess or tumor in the spine can cause sciatica.
What are the signs and symptoms?
Pain is the main symptom of sciatica that radiates throughout the nerve, resulting to a stabbing, burning or tingling sensation down the leg. The persistent pain can cause numbness or weakness of the affected leg.
It is important to note that sciatica can also trigger pain in the lower back that can worsen during abrupt movements such as coughing. Even though other symptoms of a complex condition can affect the spine, many individuals usually focus on reducing the pain from sciatica.
Self-care for sciatica
The pain due to sciatica can be relieved by implementing some self-care measures. The acute pain can be relieved with bed rest. The individual must rest with the head elevated in order to reduce pressure off the sciatic nerve. Once the muscle spasms in the back contribute to sciatica, apply a cold pack and warm compress alternately to help reduce the pain. Even exercise can help correct the posture and strengthen muscles to adequately support the spine as well as increase flexibility.
The use of analgesic medications such as acetaminophen can momentarily reduce sciatica. In addition, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as naproxen or ibuprofen can provide relief since both reduces the inflammation and pain. As for cases involving intense pain, prescription drugs that reduce the neuropathic pain such as gabapentin used in treating seizures can provide relief.
When to seek medical care
In case sciatica does not respond to the conservative measures, the doctor might opt for the aggressive medical treatments. The injection of corticosteroid medications directly into the affected area in the back can help minimize the inflammation, thus relieving the compression on the sciatic nerve.
Individuals with sciatica due to a herniated disc might undergo a surgical procedure called as discectomy. When this procedure is performed, the surgeon removes a part of the disk that bulges into the spinal canal via a small-sized incision in the back.