What is sciatica?
Sciatica, alternatively referred to as lumbar radiculopathy, is more appropriately a symptom rather than a diagnosis. This is due to the fact that sciatica pain is derived from an irritation of the sciatic nerve. The function of a nerve is essentially to relay messages between your brain and the rest of your body.
While the true injury usually resides in the vertebrae and the muscles surrounding the lower spine, the pain is felt more strongly in the legs, thighs and even the feet. This is the case because the sciatic nerve, responsible for transferring sensory and motor information between the spine and legs, runs from the lower back (lumbar spine) where it exits the spinal canal (the housing for the spinal cord). The main nerve then carries down through the pelvis and splits into each leg. This means that any pressure on the sciatic nerve (resulting from a herniated disc in the lower spine, for example) transfers pain into the legs. Sciatic pain can range from cramping sensations, shooting pain in the hip or down the leg, as well as constant pain in the buttocks and lower back.
True sciatica is technically defined by a pinching of the sciatic nerve. Typically, those between the ages of 30 and 50 are more prone to back injury- this can arise from heavy physical labour, pregnancy, or simply an over-exertion of the spine and surrounding muscles. Sciatica can be triggered by certain activities such as physical stress, poor posture and weight gain- each of these increases pressure on the lower back. Generally, activities such as climbing stairs, walking and running aggravate the nerve and increase the pain.
While a herniated disc in the lower back (from the lumbar vertebra L4-5 through the sacral vertebra S1-3) is the most common cause, other sources of sciatic nerve damage may include:
- spinal stenosis
- degenerative disc disease
- isthmic spondylolisthesis
Other conditions related to Sciatica include:
- piriformis syndrome
- sacroiliac joint dysfunction
The variety of the aforementioned causes of your sciatic pain emphasizes the importance of a proper diagnosis- see your doctor as soon as you can. Generally, sciatica can be resolved by identifying and treating the underlying cause. An MRI, CT scan, or nerve function test may be necessary in order to determine the specific cause of your sciatica.
Although sciatica often gets better without any treatment, the healing process can be enhanced by following a few simple guidelines. Most episodes of sciatica are once-in-a-lifetime; however, some people experience flare-ups occasionally. It may be necessary to adopt a lifestyle of preventive measures if you're prone to sciatica.
Comfort measures for dealing with sciatic nerve problems may include physical therapy to help with muscle pain. If the pain is too intense for deep muscle massage, the therapist will often use Ultrasound technology, such as our Portable Therapeutic Ultrasound System. Ultrasound Therapy has been proven beneficial in stimulating blood flow, relieving stress, and promoting healing in the treated area.
Sciatica - Treatments
The journey to sciatica pain relief begins with obtaining a proper diagnosis from a doctor specializing in back pain/disorders. In many cases, sciatica is associated with over-exertion or a back injury. In these cases, it's important to determine if conservative measures including ice/heat therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, moderate stretching, and Ultrasound Therapy (such as our Personal Therapeutic Ultrasound System) are adequate. Conservative treatments are usually very effective. However, if you experience more serious symptoms like considerable loss of feeling and numbness, a loss of bladder and bowel control, muscle weakness or if the pain lasts and gets progressively worse, then get medical attention immediately. Bed rest has long been accepted as necessary for relieving back pain and sciatica. In more recent years, however, the long term benefits of bed rest have been challenged. While rest may temporarily relieve pain within the first day or two of an injury, prolonged bed rest may be detrimental to healing. Inactivity causes muscle atrophy (loss of muscle mass), muscle tightness and reduced blood flow in the back, all of which are disadvantageous for healing. Rather, treatments should be geared at maximizing mobility and maintaining back strength while taking care not to re-injure it.
Sciatica Treatment Options
Ultrasound - For more detailed information on how Ultrasound helps heal lower back pain and sciatica, see our About Ultrasound page. Essentially, Ultrasound Therapy provides stimulation to deep muscle tissue, which increases nutrient rich blood flow to the area. It has been found to aid distended connective tissue, which is important for stretching- this helps increase your range of motion for safer and more effective stretching and rehabilitation.
An Inferno Wrap Energy Device for the back is one of the most helpful tools for a wide variety of painful back-related problems. Through the use of the patented Energy Web, soft tissues are safely and gently heated- increasing oxygen and nutrient rich blood flow within the treated area. Your body's natural response to this increased temperature is to try to maintain a condition of homeostasis in a balanced environment (basically, your body increases blood flow to the heated area in an attempt to drop the temperature). With the rapid increase in blood flow to the area (a term known as vasodilation), there is an increase in the supply of oxygen and nutrients to injured cells, and toxins are flushed out (including lactic acid, commonly found in trigger points)- both of which promote healing. Our Inferno Wrap for the Back provides effective, non-invasive, non-addictive pain relief with no side effects.
Cold Wraps - Our "Freezie" Cold Compression Wraps allow you to actively treat yourself as part of the R.I.C.E. formula (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) within the first couple days of injuring your back. The coldness of the wrap effectively numbs the nerves in the treated area, which reduces pain!
Physical Therapy - Extension exercises may be part of the daily regimen recommended by your chiropractor or therapist. One exercise involves lying on your stomach in a prone position, and propping your upper body up on your elbows. Keep your hips on the floor and gently stretch by holding the position for up to 30 seconds if possible. This change in position from bending forward can temporarily relieve the pressure on the sciatic nerve. Advanced forms of extension exercises will be given as the inflammation causing sciatic nerve pain begins to resolve. The use of Ultrasound Therapy or our Inferno Wraps before stretching and exercising the lower back will help compensate for impaired movement, enabling a thorough stretch and/or workout.
Medication - Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications are another possible sciatica treatment. Since sciatica is caused by pressure on the sciatic nerve complex, reducing the swelling around the nerve endings is necessary for lowering the pain intensity. Anti-inflammatory medications are generally not as effective when used alone as when used in combination with other sciatica home treatments, such as exercise or Ultrasound Therapy. And besides, physical therapy like stretching and massage often provide the same pain relieving benefits as medication, but without any side effects.
Do you have more questions?
We encourage you to contact our office directly with any questions you may have or advice on treating your back injuries, whiplash injuries or sciatica. You can be assured all your questions will be answered in a thorough and courteous manner by our trained staff.
Feel free to email us at contact@AidMyBack.com.
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