Sciatica refers to pain, weakness, numbness, or tingling in the leg. It is caused by injury to or pressure on the sciatic nerve.
The sciatic nerve starts in the lower back and runs down the back of each leg. This nerve controls the muscles of the back of the knee and lower leg. It also provides sensation to the back of the thigh, part of the lower leg, and the sole of the foot.
Sciatica can be mild or severe and is usually caused by a herniated disk, spinal stenosis or a spinal fracture. It may also result from a bone spur obstructing the sciatic nerve. In rare occasions, a tumor or damage caused by another health condition compresses the nerve.
Risk factors for sciatica include profile and lifestyle choices like age, obesity, occupation, prolonged sitting, and diabetes. These factors contribute to the deterioration of the disks in your spine through stress or improper alignment or increase one’s risk of nerve damage.
Proper posture, regular exercise, and good body awareness/mechanics can help prevent sciatica from developing or worsening. Maintaining a neutral spine and correct alignment when sitting or standing can aid overall spinal health. Strong abdominal muscles enable proper posture by physically supporting lower back alignment, so focusing on core exercises to build core strength promote a healthy spine. Correct ergonomics in the workplace, like chair and desk height, can help protect joints and overall posture. If one’s work requires strenuous activity, lift heavy objects with your legs and close to your body to help prevent spinal injuries.
Sciatica pain can vary widely. It may feel like a mild tingling, dull ache, or burning sensation. In some cases, the pain is severe enough to make a person unable to move. Discomfort can occur anywhere along the nerve path, from the lower back down to the calves. Sneezing, coughing, or sitting for a long period of time can contribute to pain. If your symptoms are mild, the pain and discomfort should subside over time.
When to Seek Medical Attention
If your symptoms last longer than a week or continues to worsen, seek medical attention. Those experiencing difficulty controlling their bladder or bowels, losing feeling/strength in the affected leg, or experiencing these symptoms after a physically traumatic event should see a medical professional immediately. Permanent nerve damage can occur in serious and/or chronic sciatica patients, so it’s important to receive immediate care
Physical exams and imaging tests may be used to diagnose what’s worsening sciatica/sciatica symptoms.
Wake Forest Baptist spine specialists most often treat sciatica with nonsurgical therapeutic methods like heat or ice packs or over-the-counter pain relievers. They may also recommend that you avoid heavy lifting and strenuous exercise temporarily to decrease pain and inflammation. Injections or physical therapy may also be used depending on the intensity of your pain.