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Sciatica

Sciatica is another common pain condition that Clearway Pain Solutions commonly treats amongst our patients. If you have more questions about this condition, make sure to make an appointment with one of our pain management providers.

What is Sciatica?

Sciatica is a common pain condition comprised of the symptoms of any condition caused by irritation or compression of nerve roots based in the sciatic nerve, which is the longest and widest nerve in the body running from the lower back, through the pelvis, down each leg, and branching out from there. This nerve contains sensory and motor neurons allowing muscles to feel and for you to move.

When you feel sciatica, it is typically only on one side of the body. Pain associated with sciatica can be severe, but most cases resolve with just conservative treatments in a few weeks. Those continuing to have severe sciatica pain after six weeks of treatment may need surgery to relieve pressure on the nerve.

What Are the Causes and Risk Factors of Sciatica?

Sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve becomes pinched. Common back problems like herniated disc, degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, bone spurs on vertebrae, and spondylolisthesis (slipping vertebrae in the base of the spine) can cause sciatica as it compresses part of the sciatic nerve. More rarely, the nerve can be compressed by a tumor or damaged by a disease, such as diabetes. These conditions can lead to inflammation and pain, among other symptoms.

Most risk factors of sciatica are preventable. Obesity creates stress on your spine that can lead to numerous lower back problems that may trigger sciatica. In order to avoid these painful symptoms, it is best to maintain a healthy weight. Jobs that require you to twist or bend over a lot, carry heavy loads, or drive for long distances can contribute to sciatica pain. Those who have jobs requiring them to sit for long periods of time or who live a sedentary life are at a higher risk than active individuals. To avoid sciatica pain, stand up and take breaks as often as possible and get plenty of exercise. The natural aging process may contribute to many issues in your spine. The best thing you can do to prevent this is to stay active, maintain a healthy weight, and control your blood sugar to avoid getting diabetes which can contribute to nerve damage.

What Are the Symptoms?

Sciatica can often be mistaken for regular back pain, but is much different. Sciatica is pain originating from sciatic nerves after they become damaged, pinched, or irritated. Damage or trauma to your sciatic nerve or nerve root can cause painful symptoms including pain, weakness, and numbness. It most often radiates from the lower back where the nerve is located, down through the lower limbs. Pain in your buttocks can worsen if you try to sit down. Shooting pain may make it difficult for people to stand up. You may feel the pain almost anywhere along the path of the sciatic nerve, but it’s especially likely to follow a path from your lower back to your buttocks and the back of your thigh and calf.

The pain on your affected side of your buttocks will be constant and nearly unbearable leading to weakness, pain, and difficulty moving your leg or foot. You may have pain in one part of your leg and numbness in another. Some patients also experience a burning sensation in your leg or pain in the hip. The pain level can vary widely, from a mild ache to a sharp, burning sensation or excruciating discomfort. Sometimes it may feel like a jolt or electric shock.

Sciatica Treatments

Since sciatica has many symptoms and isn’t an actual disease, each treatment will be unique. Treatment for sciatica is treating the cause of the pain. We can treat all symptoms of sciatica at Clearway Pain Solutions. We work to relieve your pain so you are able to do everyday tasks while not being in pain. As with all our pain conditions, we believe in utilizing all the treatment options available, starting with the procedures best suited for your pain level. Call Clearway Pain Solutions to see how we can help treat your sciatica pain. If your pain doesn’t improve with self-care measures, our doctors may suggest some of the following treatments:

Medications

Medications can help the patient deal with the pain when all other options fail. The type of drugs that we might prescribe for sciatica pain include:

  • Anti-inflammatories
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Narcotics
  • Tricyclic antidepressants
  • Anti-seizure medications

Surgery

This option is usually reserved for times when the compressed nerve causes significant weakness, bowel or bladder incontinence or when you have pain that progressively worsens or doesn’t improve with other therapies. Surgeons can remove the bone spur or the portion of the herniated disc that’s pressing on the pinched nerve. What are some ways to help deal with mild sciatic pain at home? For most people, sciatica responds well to self-care measures. You’ll heal more quickly if you continue with your usual activities but avoid what may have triggered the pain in the first place. Although resting for a day or so may provide some relief, prolonged inactivity will make your signs and symptoms worse.

Steroid Injections

In some cases, our doctors may recommend injection of a corticosteroid medication into the area around the involved nerve root. Corticosteroids help reduce pain by suppressing inflammation around the irritated nerve. The effects usually wear off in a few months. The number of steroid injections you can receive is limited because the risk of serious side effects increases when the injections occur too frequently.

Physical Therapy

Once your acute pain improves, our doctors or a physical therapist can design a rehabilitation program to help you prevent recurrent injuries. Typical treatment includes exercises to improve flexibility, strengthen back muscles, and correct posture.

Other self-care treatments that may be helpful include:

Cold packs: Initially, you may get relief from a cold pack placed on the painful area for up to 20 minutes, several times a day. Use an ice pack or a package of frozen peas wrapped in a clean towel.

Hot packs: After two to three days, apply heat to the areas that hurt. Use hot packs, a heat lamp, or a heating pad on the lowest setting. If you continue to have pain, try alternating warm and cold packs.

Stretching: Stretching exercises for your lower back can help you feel better and may help relieve nerve root compression. Avoid jerking, bouncing, or twisting during the stretch and try to hold the stretch at least 30 seconds.

Over-the-counter medications: Pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others) and naproxen (Aleve) are sometimes helpful for sciatica.

Alternative therapies commonly used for lower back pain include:

Acupuncture: In acupuncture, the practitioner inserts hair-thin needles into your skin at specific points on your body. Some studies have suggested that acupuncture can help back pain, while others have found no benefit. If you decide to try acupuncture, choose a licensed practitioner to ensure that he or she has had extensive training.

Chiropractic: Spinal adjustment (manipulation) is one form of therapy chiropractors use to treat restricted spinal mobility. The goal is to restore spinal movement and, as a result, improve function and decrease pain. Spinal manipulation appears to be as effective and safe as standard treatments for lower back pain.

It’s not always possible to prevent sciatica, and the condition may recur. The following suggestions can play a key role in protecting your back:

Exercise regularly: This is the most important thing you can do for your overall health as well as for your back. Pay special attention to your core muscles — the muscles in your abdomen and lower back that are essential for proper posture and alignment. Ask your doctor to recommend specific activities.

Maintain proper posture when you sit: Choose a seat with good lower back support, arm rests and a swivel base. Consider placing a pillow or rolled towel in the small of your back to maintain its normal curve. Keep your knees and hips level.

Use good body mechanics: If you stand for long periods, rest one foot on a stool or small box from time to time. When you lift something heavy, let your lower extremities do the work. Move straight up and down. Keep your back straight and bend only at the knees. Hold the load close to your body. Avoid lifting and twisting simultaneously. Find a lifting partner if the object is heavy or awkward.

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