The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body. It starts from nerve roots in the lower back and spreads through the buttocks and down to the feet. Periodic discomfort in the sciatic area is referred to as sciatic nerve pain or sciatica. When this nerve is compressed or irritated, it causes radiating pain that ranges from slight to severe. The most common cause of sciatic nerve pain is a slipped disk. It usually affects only one side of the body. However, the pain can be debilitating. Let’s take a closer look at this condition to find out if your case needs a simple treatment or professional help.
Quickcare or ER?
Some red flags that will send you to the ER:
- Pain levels that are unbearable.
- The inability to walk.
- Numbing or tingling on one or both sides of the lower body.
- Bladder or bowel control problems.
Diagnosing Sciatica Nerve Pain
Most people receive a diagnosis from their family doctor or a chiropractor. Some patients get their diagnosis while visiting the emergency room due to excruciating lower back pain. Diagnostic tests include x-rays, a physical examination, and possibly a CT or MRI scan. MRI is best suited to examine soft tissue such as sciatic nerves and disc herniation.
What Will Your Doctor Ask?
As the doctor examines your lower back, he/she will ask you to rate your current pain (1-10) and will ask when the pain started. He/she will review your medical history to find if any past illness or event could have contributed to your current condition. Tell the doctor how often you experience sciatic nerve pain and its severity.
The physician will ask if you feel tingling or numbness in your lower body, legs or feet, or if they feel weak. Give your doctor a list of any medications you are taking, including herbal supplements. If you do heavy lifting or extreme physical activities, let him/her know.
What Will Your Doctor Look for?
Your doctor will suspect a compressed nerve by observing symptoms. He/she looks for difficulty in walking, numbness and tingling, extreme pain, and the inability to sit without discomfort. Additionally, many people will have problems walking on the affected side. Their body may appear crooked or off-balance.
During the physical and neurological examination, the doctor will feel your spine. He/she will note the curvature and alignment, and if there are any spasms. When examining the x-rays or CT scan, the doctor will look for issues that are causing sciatica. Is there a herniated disk pressing on the nerve? Once your physician has a complete picture of your sciatic nerve pain, then he/she can make a diagnosis.
During the physical examination, the doctor will study your back, hips, and legs. He/she must see if there is any loss of sensation, tenderness or inflammation in these areas. The reflexes and flexibility of your back and extremities are usually compromised when the sciatic nerve is compressed. The imagery tests will confirm the suspected problem.
What Is the Treatment for Sciatic Nerve Pain?
Treating sciatic nerve pain depends on the underlying cause. Many cases will resolve over time without medical intervention. The most common method to treat this condition is using physical manipulation by a trained physical therapist. Chiropractors also do a great job with back pain relief.
By shifting the spine back into the correct position, it removes the pressure caused by misalignments in the spinal column. Massages can also be used to bring relief and is a holistic method often used for those who do not want medications. Alternating heat and cold packs can also be beneficial.
Acupuncture is another holistic method used to treat sciatic nerve pain. The practitioner uses thin needles to stimulate and relax the muscles and nerves in the lower back. Other patients report positive results by practicing yoga.
Many people who suffer from sciatica use topical ointments on their lower back for relief. These ointments may be over-the-counter products from the pharmacy, or a herbal remedy rub. When the ointment is massaged into the affected area, it can relax the muscles naturally, and ease inflamed nerves.
Most patients experience painful muscle spasms with sciatic nerve pain. Your doctor may recommend that you take over-the-counter pain medication. When these do not help, you may need a prescribed muscle relaxer medication. Certain antidepressants may also ease muscle pain; however, these medications only address muscle spasm pain. They will not specifically help the pinched sciatic nerve.
Unresolved sciatic nerve pain may require steroid shots, which can reduce inflammation in the sciatic nerve area. However, steroid shots may have undesirable side effects, and can only be prescribed three times a year. In extreme cases, patients may undergo surgery to correct the herniated disc that is causing pressure on their sciatic nerve. Surgery can offer immediate relief for up to four years.
Sciatic Nerve Pain Treatment Duration/Recovery Time
Treatment duration and recovery time for these symptoms depend on what methods your doctor recommends. If your sciatic nerve pain is mild to moderate, you may find relief in a short time with chiropractic care and other holistic methods. Topical ointments may help milder cases.
Those who take prescribed medication or steroid shots often get instant relief from their symptoms. If you must have back surgery in an extreme case, expect some time to recover from the surgery.
General Information about Sciatic Nerve Pain
Sciatic nerve pain (sciatica) occurs when the nerve roots of the sciatic nerve get irritated and inflamed. You may experience varying levels of pain, numbness, and tingling in the affected area. It is an extensive pain that radiates from the lower back, through the buttocks, and down through the leg and foot. Sciatica usually affects only one side of your body.
It is usually caused by a lower- spinal disc that is ruptured or bulging. The affected disc puts pressure on the sciatic nerve’s roots. Sometimes, other spinal disorders can produce sciatica, such as bone spurs, arthritis or injuries. Pregnant mothers may experience painful sciatic nerve pain, as well as people who have tumors pressing on the sciatic nerve.
Sciatic nerve pain can be debilitating enough to interfere with your life. Fortunately, most cases can be resolved with medical and holistic approaches. If you have sciatica, consult your doctor to find the best solutions for you.