Sciatica

What is Sciatica?

The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body which runs from the lower back, through the buttocks, and into each leg.  When the sciatic nerve gets irritated you may experience sciatica.  This condition may cause moderate to severe pain in the lower back, legs, or buttocks, as well as sensations like numbness, burning, weakness, or even sharp pain. 

Sciatica Symptoms:

Since sciatica is caused by damage or injury to the sciatic nerve, you may experience general symptoms of nerve damage along with the specific symptoms of sciatica.  You may experience symptoms like pins and needles in the feet, or numbness and even loss of feeling and movement in the legs and feet in severe cases.  Sciatica patients often notice that their pain gets worse as they move.  In some cases, sciatica patients may also lose control of their bladder and bowels.  This may be a medical emergency that requires urgent medical assistance.

What Causes Sciatica?

Conditions that affect the spine may cause sciatica.  These can include injuries like falls, and even tumors growing on the spine or nerves in the back.  A condition called spinal stenosis, which happens when the lower spinal canal gets too narrow, may put pressure on your sciatic nerve roots and cause sciatica.  Spondylolisthesis is another condition that may cause sciatica.  It occurs when one spinal bone (vertebra) juts forwards and pinches the sciatic nerves.

Herniated disks may also cause sciatica.  When the disks made of cartilage between the vertebrae become damaged, this may put pressure on the sciatic nerve, causing sciatic pain. 

Sciatica Risk Factors

Age and deterioration of the body may contribute to sciatica occurring.  Being obese, sitting still for long periods of time, and doing a lot of heavy lifting or twisting movements may also increase your risk.  Smoking may cause your spinal disks to wear out, while diabetes may increase the risk of nerve damage.

Diagnosis of Sciatica

Diagnosing your sciatica will depend on what’s causing your symptoms.  Your doctor will need to know details about your symptoms and medical history and may also conduct a physical exam.  Following this, nerve tests and imaging tests like x-rays, CT scans, and MRIs may be conducted.  These can all help to clarify the cause of your sciatica.

Sciatica Treatment

If you have sciatica, try to stay active and avoid lying down or sitting still for too long at a time.  Gentle, low-impact exercise options like stationary cycling and swimming may be very beneficial in the beginning.  Stretching is also important.  As you are able, try to increase your exercise routine to include strength and stability training and aerobics. 

If your sciatica symptoms are due to an injury, applying ice packs in the first 2 to 3 days may help to reduce swelling and pain.  This can be done several times a day for short periods of time.  After a few days, you may wish to switch to using heat packs, which help to relax the affected muscles.

Over-the-counter and prescription medications may be useful for reducing pain, however, side effects (like stomach bleeding) may sometimes occur.  In severe cases, surgery may be a treatment option for you.  This may be done if a disk is pressing on your spine.

Prevention of Sciatica:

Strengthening the core and back muscles through regular exercise, maintaining good posture, and being mindful of how you lift heavy objects may all help to prevent sciatica from occurring.

How Can Chinese Medicine Help?

Traditional Chinese Medicine can be very effective at reducing pain for many conditions, including sciatica.  Because all the parts of the body are fundamentally connected to each other, applying pressure or stimulation to specific pressure points on the body can help to reduce pain in other parts of the body.  This is done through an intricate network of energy meridians. Acupuncture is when thin needles are applied to these pressure points which connect to the meridians in the body.

Because we are all different, the exact pressure points and acupuncture techniques that help improve your condition may be different from the pressure points which work for other people.  It’s also important to note that the effectiveness of acupuncture on your sciatica symptoms may depend on the cause of your condition. 

Conclusion:

Sciatica is a feeling of moderate to intense back pain which may extend into the buttocks and legs.  Various conditions (like damaged discs or spinal tumors) may cause sciatica to occur, by irritating or damaging the sciatic nerve.  Treatment may involve stretching, exercising, and hot or cold compresses, while severe cases may indicate surgery as a treatment option.  Chinese Medicine can significantly reduce the pain caused by sciatica, through gentle but effective techniques like acupuncture.

References:

Johnson, S. (2022, January 31). Everything You Need to Know About Sciatica. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/sciatica

If you have any health issues that require attention, Honor Wellness is open seven days a week. Call 604.428.9946 to book an appointment or email us at info@honorwellness.ca

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