Prevention and Treatment of the Pain of Sciatica
What is the Sciatic Nerve?
What Triggers the Pain of Sciatica and How can it be Prevented and Treated?
(One of our readers submitted this question to us. Thank you, Erica.)
Over the years I have heard this statement so many times, “Hey Doc, I think I have a sciatic nerve.” …and the truth is that they are always correct—we all have a sciatic nerve—actually, we have two sciatic nerves, one on each side of your body.
Sciatica: a symptom
The sciatic is a large nerve that is an extension of a plexus or network of nerves that comes from the nerve roots that exit the lower back and sacral regions. ‘Sciatica’ is a symptom, not an actual diagnosis, characterized by pain that radiates down the back of the leg to the lower part of the leg and foot. It is most often described as ‘sharp, shooting’ pain or numbness and tingling, and it most often affects one leg.
The symptom of sciatica results from compression of one or more of the lower lumbar nerve roots, most often by a disc injury. The most commonly affected discs are the L5/S1 and L4/5 discs. The pain is associated with nerve-root irritation, as well as inflammation associated with the injury.
Many people characterize any type of leg pain as “sciatica” however, not all radiating leg pain is a result of nerve root compression at the lower back. Peripheral entrapment of the sciatic nerve at the piriformis muscle in the gluteal region can mimic the symptoms of sciatica, but usually refers pain to the back of the thigh above knee. There are other causes of sciatica-like symptoms and correct treatment will depend upon the cause. It is very important to be evaluated by a healthcare professional if you experience any lower back pain or pain that radiates into your legs.
Acute vs. Chronic Management
The challenge of preventing sciatica does not come with an easy answer. If sciatica begins as a result of an acute trauma, such as a motor vehicle accident or a fall, unfortunately it becomes more of a question of management and rehabilitation. In this case, prevention would involve both good safety practices and a healthy dose of luck.
For people who do not suffer an acute injury, the prevention of sciatica begins with spinal-health and preventative ergonomic measures. We are given only one spine to use for the rest of our lives. How we treat it will usually equate with how it treats us. Even if you’ve never experienced back pain or stiffness, including specific activities in your daily life is essential to protect your spine from injury.
A Healthy Spine for Life
One of the most important pro-spinal health activities is exercise. Our body loves movement; it keeps our joints healthy, our bones strong, and helps improve overall health. The lack of movement inherent in sedentary lifestyles, such as computer/desk jobs, can, and often does, lead to spine issues. Sitting is one of the most compressive activities to the spine, and improper sitting can lead to spinal or disc-related injuries. It is so important to balance our sitting time with exercise and fitness.
Activities such as walking, cardio-training, and yoga are excellent choices to get the body moving. In addition, visiting your Doctor of Chiropractic for a preventive spinal check up is a great way to start building healthy spine habits for life.