Sciatica: Understanding Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Management, And Prevention

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Our body is a complex system of nerves, bones, and muscles which work in coordination to deliver the way our body works. More often than not, when one of them fails, not only is the pain unbearable but the body crumbles down completely. The kinds of diseases that could affect the human body are innumerable but one that affects the nerve is quite painful. Since every nerve connects itself to the highly active brain, even a small misfiring could have astonishing results. Sciatica is such a condition and therefore we will be talking about it in detail. Give it a read to understand the condition better and perhaps provide help to your loved ones.

Sciatica: Overview

It is a painful condition that affects the sciatic nerve running from our back through the leg and joins down the buttocks. Regardless, the condition is seen in people who suffer from various back problems like herniated discs and spinal stenosis. Additionally, the condition is only seen in individuals who have back problems. It usually sticks to one side of the body. Rarely, it could radiate to the other side and can be unbearable most times. Let’s look at the symptoms and causes of the disease in detail.

sciatica Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

Symptoms and Causes

It is characterized by pain that can be traced back to the line around which one’s sciatic nerve passes.  Being the longest nerve in the body, the pain could also vary in intensity and location. Mostly it can cause-

  • Pain– The most obvious symptoms on and around the legs and hips which circle. Some people also describe it as a shooting pain similar to neuropathic pains.
  • Radiating pain– Another form of pain, in which you might feel the pain could be covering your legs in waves which can cause a lot of discomfort.
  • Tingling– Like most neuropathic conditions, sciatica can also cause the feeling of numbness in the area of the hips, legs, and buttocks.
  • Muscle weakness– You might feel weak in the muscles making you unable to walk or even lift an object without proper aid.
  • Burning sensation– In some severe cases, the individual suffers from a burning sensation down their leg and hips.

Categorized by the compression of the sciatica nerve, its major causes include-

  1. Herniated discs– Leaking discs due to multiple causes can lead to slipping of the vertebral support which is dangerous and can irritate the nerves including the sciatic nerve.
  2. Spinal stenosis– Narrowing of the spinal canal can lead to problems resulting in nerve impairment which could trigger sciatica.
  3. Degenerative disc disease– Your discs undergo constant degeneration which can affect the nerves as well and this causes extreme pain to the nerve region.
  4. Spondylolisthesis– When a vertebra slips out of place thanks to an accident or mishap. The nerve is exposed from its original place making it vulnerable to movement.
  5. Piriformis Syndrome-Muscle located near the buttocks could cause severe pain in the nerves.

Diagnosis and tests

Testing for sciatica also happens only when you have radiating pain. Moreover, when any of the above conditions are diagnosed, a detailed medical history is taken which helps the doctor understand the troubles. Firstly, a physical examination can be conducted to diagnose the placement of the nerve and what could be done to alleviate it. Secondly, tests like X-ray or CT scans can be helpful in this endeavor as they identify any bone spurs or deviation. Thirdly, EMG is conducted to study the working of nerves in your body and how their movement may have affected your posture.

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Management and Treatment

Managing pain is a tedious task but with the right treatment, it can be achieved effortlessly. These steps can be followed-

  1. Conservative steps– This includes a set of rules that are usually adopted when back pain radiates. It is usually managed with rest, over-the-counter drugs, and occupational therapy to ease the movement.
  2. Physical therapy– With the help of a physiotherapist, your motion and movement of nerves can be improved. You can also seek help for the daily activities.
  3. Medications– NSAIDs, muscle relaxants, and pain medications should be consumed to improve the pain and improve other conditions.
  4. Injections– To get immediate relief, injections like nerve root blockers or steroids are also prescribed by doctors.
  5. Surgery– To improve the underlying condition, it is important to conduct surgery. You can consult the doctor and discuss the course of treatment methods in detail.

Prevention

 According to researchers, it has been found that sciatica cannot be avoided completely because it can also be caused by old age. However, to an extent, you could block the causes by

  • Maintain a good posture especially when sitting for longer periods which can increase the pain of a herniated disk.
  • Exercise regularly that can make your back muscles and glutes healthy and powerful enough to resist pain.
  • Lift heavy objects using a proper posture; by bending the back and not just your legs which can damage the vertebrae in the long run.
  • Avoid prolonged periods of standing or sitting to not pressurize a single nerve.
  • Eat healthy including the Calcium and Vitamin D laced food substances.
  • Sleep for longer hours– Take rest for 8 hours to help your body recover from any tears or breaks it might have sustained during rigorous training hours.
  • Engage in weight lifting- You should include weight lifting exercises when you are working out.

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Conclusion

Sciatica is a neuropathic condition that triggers pain in the sciatic nerve around the legs. It is usually exacerbated during a fall or slip which attacks the nerve viciously. The radiating and throbbing pain can disrupt your normal routine and that is when you need to test for assurance. Once a detailed test is conducted, you must visit a doctor who shall suggest to you the possibilities of various rehabilitative programs including medication or physical therapy. You can also opt for alternate medicinal techniques which could be relieving for some people. Your posture however should be your primary concern.

References

  • Rantonen J, Karppinen J, Vehtari A, Luoto S, Viikari-Juntura E, Hupli M, Malmivaara A, Taimela S. Effectiveness of three interventions for secondary prevention of low back pain in the occupational health setting – a randomised controlled trial with a natural course control. BMC Public Health. 2018 May 08;18(1):598. [PMC free article]
  • Delgado-López PD, Rodríguez-Salazar A, Martín-Alonso J, Martín-Velasco V. [Lumbar disc herniation: Natural history, role of physical examination, timing of surgery, treatment options and conflicts of interests]. Neurocirugia (Astur). 2017 May-Jun;28(3):124-134. [PubMed]
  • Ro TH, Edmonds L. Diagnosis and Management of Piriformis Syndrome: A Rare Anatomic Variant Analyzed by Magnetic Resonance Imaging. J Clin Imaging Sci. 2018;8:6. [PMC free article

Dr. David G Kiely is a distinguished Medical Reviewer and former General Medicine Consultant with a wealth of experience in the field. Dr. Kiely's notable career as a General Medicine Consultant highlights his significant contributions to the medical field.

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