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Sciatica - Symptom, Causes, Treatment, Exercises And Home remedies

Last Updated: Feb 21, 2023

What is Sciatica?

Sciatica is the pain that occurs in the large sciatic nerve that runs from our lower back down through the back of the legs. It’s a disease that causes severe and debilitating pain. Sciatica pain that originates in the lower back moves down and travels through our buttocks along the path of the sciatic nerve, behind our legs causing numbness, tingling sensation or weakness.

Anatomically speaking, this nerve is the largest single nerve in our body and constitutes individual nerve roots that start by spreading out from our spine in the lower back and then assimilate to form the ‘sciatic nerve’. The symptoms of this disease arise, when this large nerve gets compressed or irritated at or near its point of origin.

What are the types of sciatica?

There are four types of sciatica and each of the types requires a different kind of treatment.

  • Herniated or Bulging disc: This condition happens mostly after an accident. The disc turns herniated when the nucleus of the disc breaks through the annulus layer. If the nucleus does not break but only the disc emerges out, then it is known as a bulging disc. However, in both cases, the discs compress the sciatic nerve and the inflammation causes numbness, tingling sensation along with pain.
  • Spondylolisthesis: This may be a congenital condition or rise from a traumatic injury. One of the vertebrae in the spine slips from its position and rides over the next vertebra. In this condition, the sciatic nerve is totally compressed and causes excruciating pain.
  • Piriformis syndrome: Piriformis is a muscle that extends from the sacrum’s front side and in its back the sciatic nerve runs. This muscle is connected with the hip bone. Hence, when this muscle tenses, there could be an irritation felt. The muscle tension can compress the sciatic nerve and starts paining. This muscular problem cannot be detected in X-Ray. But, this can be cured with the help of stretching exercises and this is the easier form of sciatica when compared to other types.
  • Lumbar Spinal Stenosis: This condition is often associated with age. The spinal canal gradually starts narrowing and causes pressure on the spinal cord and on the spinal nerves. This pressure on the spinal nerves could develop sciatica pain.

What are the early signs of sciatica?

When the sciatic nerve is irritated by compression, it will lead to sciatica that causes severe pain. The pain ranges from mild to severe depending on the level of compression. Usually, a compressed nerve in the lower spine causes sciatic pain.

Sciatic nerve:

The longest and widest nerve in the human body is the sciatic nerve. It runs through the buttocks, and legs and ends just below the knee. Sensation to the skin of the foot and lower part of the legs, along with several muscles are controlled by sciatica.

The most common symptoms of sciatica include:

  • Hip pain associated with lower back pain
  • Burning and tingling sensation in the lower leg
  • An excruciating pain that makes the standing/sitting posture difficult
  • The pain will be better in the lying posture
  • Numbness and weakness in the foot

What are the causes of sciatica pain?

Sciatica pain reasons:

The following 6 lower back medical issues are the most common causes of sciatica:

In addition to the above stated 6 most common causes, a number of other conditions can also cause sciatica, which includes:


How does a doctor diagnose sciatica?

When you go with pain, the physician will do a physical examination to check your muscle strength and reflexes. During some activities such as lying on the back, and rising from a squatting position, the sciatica pain might suit up. If the pain does not improve even after taking medicines, you will be recommended to go for an X-Ray, CT/MRI, and Electromyography.

The last test will decide whether the nerve compression is caused by a herniated disc or spinal stenosis. The Myelogram is another test to find if a disc or vertebra is causing the pain and it is done by injecting dye between the vertebrae. After seeing all the reports, the physician will decide the underlying cause or major cause of the sciatic pain.

How should I deal with sciatica?

Dealing with sciatica can be difficult. During daily life work, one often forgets the small things that need to be considered to prevent the sciatic nerve. Below mentioned are some of the measures that can help you in dealing with sciatica:

  • Cold/Hot compress: while a cold pack will give you relief from the swelling and pain, a hot pack soothes the sore spots. You can use both compresses separately. Do not use one compress after another as it can cause sudden changes in your body temperature.
  • OTC therapeutics: Your doctor will prescribe you a couple of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs that can be used in case of pain, inflammation, and swelling. The medications will come with some common compounds like aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. Consult your doctor in case you are allergic to any of these elements.
  • Homestretch exercise: Ask your doctor about the exercises that are good for your pain. Practice the exercises at home to get relief from the pain.
Summary: Dealing with discomfort in the sciatic nerve can be difficult. But with the help of daily exercise, medication, and compress, one can very well manage sciatica.

What are the risk factors that cause sciatica?

Patients suffering from sciatica pain are rarely aged below 20. This disease is commonplace in middle age people who are between the ages of 40-50. While sciatica pain is often loosely used to describe all kinds of leg pains, researchers estimate that up to 43 percent of the global population gets affected by this disease, at some time in their lives.

Although pain from a pinched nerve can be debilitating, most patients suffering from sciatica, find themselves feeling better with medication, within a few weeks or months. Sciatica is a condition that seldom occurs because of a particular injury, but rather this painful condition develops over time.

What can make sciatica worse?

Medical conditions associated with nerves and bones can get worse with normal lifestyle actions. Here are some of the things that need to be avoided to ensure relief in sciatica:

  • Bending forward with the waist
  • Sitting for too long
  • Lifting heavy objects or lifting objects bending forward
  • Persistent coughing
  • Sleeping on the affected side
Summary: There are many things that can put pressure on your sciatic nerve and make your condition worse. Avoid repeating some daily life activities bending, sitting for a longer period of time, and inappropriate sleeping position.

How sciatica is treated ?

Sciatica can be treated both surgically and non-surgically. There are a wide range of options that are available for nonsurgical sciatica treatment, such as, ice and heat compression on the affected site, ingesting over-the-counter pain medications and injecting epidural steroid injection for relieving acute pain.

Usually all these treatments are prescribed in conjunction with specific exercises. In addition, these common medical treatments, a wide number of alternative treatments have also proved effective for many patients for alleviating this pain. Some of the most accepted forms of alternate care for treating sciatica includes acupuncture therapy, chiropractic manipulation, massage and cognitive behavior therapy.

What should I avoid if I have sciatica?

Since the medical condition is concentrated on physical pain, the treatment and prevention will also deal with the same. Here are some physical activities that should be strictly avoided to protect oneself from extensive pain and damage during sciatica:

  • Exercises That Stretch Your Hamstrings
  • Sitting For Longer Than 20 Minutes
  • Lifting Heavy Weights Before Warming Up
  • Prolonged Bed Rest
  • Certain Exercise Machines
  • Bending Over
  • Lifting Heavy Objects
  • Sitting in the “Wrong” Office Chair
  • Long Car Trips
  • Worrying
  • Twisting Your Spine
Summary: To keep the nerve pain-free, one needs to take care of many things. These daily based actions need to be avoided for effective treatment.

What are the complications of sciatica?

The complications of sciatica arise when the problem is not cured and the following impediments are generally experienced by the victims.

  • Foot drop: The person may experience chronic muscle weakness and drop foot in the case of the severely injured sciatic nerve. In this condition, the person cannot lift the foot and it may be a temporary or permanent condition.
  • Increased disc herniation: Disc herniation can worsen and may cause excess nerve compression.
  • Loss of feeling in the affected leg: The patient may feel a gradual loss of feeling and sensation in the affected leg.
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control: Sciatica may try to reduce the bowel or bladder control step-by-step.
  • Anxiety and depression: Chronic pain of sciatic always pulls down one’s emotions that make the person fall in depression and stress.

Is walking good for sciatica?

It is important for an individual to have a certain amount of physical activity in order to maintain their physical and mental health. Walking is good for your body, however, walking in the wrong position can put pressure on your sciatic nerve resulting in worsening sciatica.

Take shorter steps by landing your feet with the toe side first. Also, keep the feet landing between the midfoot and heel to decrease the pressure on your sciatic nerve.

Summary: Walking is good for your body, but in the case of sciatica, walking right is important. Incorrect walking can flare up the pain in the sciatic nerve.

What are the exercises for sciatica pain?

Some simple stretching exercises have the capacity to reduce sciatica pain and they are:

  • Knees to chest: Laying flat on the back with the knees bent and soles of the feet on the floor. Now, gradually hold your knees with both hands and draw them into your chest. Hold the posture for at least 30 seconds and release the stretch slowly. Repeat it for at least three times to see better results.
  • Standing hamstring stretch: Stand straight in a position and lift the affected leg straight in the front of you. Rest your heel on the table that is just under the hip. Keep the knee straight, bend forward at the waist and keep the spine straight until you feel a stretch at the back of the leg. Hold the posture for at least 30 seconds at least. Now, go back to the starting posture, repeat on the other side.
  • Other than the above two, seated spinal twist, knee to shoulder, seated hip stretch are other types of stretching exercises for the sciatica pain.

What fruit is good for sciatica?

Fruit is an essential part of our diet and it is important to look out for what we eat to maintain a well functioning healthy body. Before choosing fruits for your sciatica diet, you must be sure about the presence of the following nutrients:

  • Magnesium
  • Vitamin B12
  • Omega 3 fatty acids
  • Fiber
Summary: Fruits are an essential part of our diet. They help us enrich our daily mineral value. Taking a sufficient amount of magnesium, vitamin b12, omega 3 fatty acids, and fiber can help you soothe the painful nerve.

What are the home remedies for sciatica pain?

Some of the effective home remedies for sciatica pain are as follows:

  • Drinking a cup of garlic milk helps in reducing sciatica pain as it is a natural anti-inflammatory.
  • A hot or cold compression is an effective way of treating sciatica pain. Hot compression reduces inflammation and pain whereas cold compression numbs the pain area.
  • Applying peppermint oil to the affected area immediately relieves pain as the herb naturally contains analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Taking Vitamins B12, C, and D helps to reduce pain and inflammation. Consuming citrus fruits, nuts milk, green vegetables, cheese, and beans naturally improves vitamins and mineral levels.
  • Valerian root has the tendency of relaxing muscles around the sciatic nerve due to its antispasmodic properties. Taking valerian tea at least three times daily helps in reducing inflammation and pain.
  • White willow bark contains salicin, an active ingredient. This ingredient treats sciatica nerve pain out of its analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. Intake of white willow bark tea at least 4 times helps you in fast recovery from sciatica pain.
Summary: Sciatica can be described as radiating pain that emits from the Sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve connects your lower back, hips, and buttocks to your lower legs. Some of the common causes of sciatica may include herniated disc or bone spur in the spine which puts pressure on the nerve. There is no permanent treatment for the condition however, one can go for physiotherapy and therapeutics.

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Written ByDr. Chirag Dalal MS - OrthopaedicsOrthopaedics
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