Sciatica 101: Understanding and Overcoming Nerve Pain


It's not the most comfortable topic of conversation, but it's time to talk about sciatica. Sciatica is a common condition that causes pain in the legs and back and can be debilitating. Fortunately, there are things you can do to help yourself—from physical therapy to better sleep habits. So if you're suffering from sciatica pain or want to prevent it from happening in your future (and who doesn't?), read this guide for everything you need to know about sciatica: what it is, what causes it and how best to treat it.

What is sciatica?

Sciatica is a symptom of a problem with the sciatic nerve, which runs from your lower back down to your butt and legs. The symptoms can include:

  • Pain that shoots down the leg
  • Tingling or numbness in part of the leg or foot
  • Shooting pain into both legs (not just one)

Sciatica symptoms

If you’re experiencing sciatica symptoms, it means that a nerve in your back is causing pain that radiates down your leg. The most common symptom of sciatica is pain in the buttock, thigh and leg. You may also feel pain when you walk or run and during other activities that put pressure on the lower back such as bending over or lifting heavy objects.

You may have experienced an injury to the muscles, ligaments or tendons in your low back region which can cause irritation to one of the nerves running through this area. This irritation can lead to inflammation around the nerve root which causes increased pressure on it resulting in pain down one or both legs.

While there are many different reasons why someone might experience nerve irritation from their lower back region (including arthritis), we’re going to focus primarily on what happens with sciatica here because this is something so many people struggle with on a daily basis!

Sciatica causes

There are two main causes of sciatica: nerve root pressure from a herniated disc, and inflammation or irritation of the sciatic nerve.

A herniated disc occurs when one of the discs in your spine ruptures. The gel-like center of this spinal structure can push out and press on surrounding nerves, causing pain that is often felt down one side or both sides of your buttock, thigh and lower leg. Sciatica caused by this type of injury usually starts off as low back pain and moves down into your buttock or leg(s).

A slipped disc occurs when two vertebrae have moved too far apart, putting pressure on nearby nerves as they pass through narrow gaps between adjacent vertebral bodies. A slipped disc may be related to trauma involving sudden twisting movements (such as falling down).

Who gets sciatica?

Sciatica is more common in people aged 40 and older. It’s also more common in women than men, and obese people compared to those who are thin or average in weight. People who have had a back injury or surgery of the spine have an increased risk of developing sciatica too.

The reasons why sciatica occurs are not known for sure, but there are some theories about what may cause this nerve pain.

Osteopathic treatment for sciatica

Osteopathic practitioners use a variety of techniques, including stretching, gentle pressure, and resistance, to help alleviate pain and improve function.

Osteopathic treatment for sciatica may involve techniques such as:

  1. Soft tissue therapy: This involves manipulating the muscles and tissues around the affected area to reduce tension and improve blood flow.
  2. Joint mobilization: This involves gently moving the joints to improve range of motion and reduce pain.
  3. Myofascial release: This involves stretching and massaging the connective tissue (called fascia) to reduce pain and improve flexibility.
  4. Craniosacral therapy: This involves gently manipulating the skull and spine to improve the flow of cerebrospinal fluid and relieve pain.

It's important to note that osteopathic treatment is just one option for managing sciatica pain, and it may not be appropriate for everyone. It's always a good idea to speak with a healthcare provider to determine the best course of treatment for your specific needs.

More treatment options for sciatica

While there’s no cure for sciatica, there are a number of treatment options that can help alleviate nerve pain.

  • Medications: Doctors may prescribe medications to minimize inflammation and relieve pain. They include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen, which can be taken over the counter or by prescription. Muscle relaxants and anti-seizure medications may also be prescribed to ease muscle spasms caused by sciatica.
  • Physical therapy: Physical therapy is often used in conjunction with other forms of treatment to help alleviate back pain caused by sciatica. Your physical therapist will likely recommend exercises that strengthen the muscles around your pelvis and hips while stretching out tight muscles in the back and legs. 
  • Surgery: If conservative treatments don’t work or if they cause too much discomfort, surgery may be recommended as an option for treating sciatica. The aim of surgery is to eliminate pressure on one or more affected nerves so that they can heal properly.* There are several different types of surgeries available depending on what part of your spine needs fixing – for example: An anterior interbody fusion involves taking bone from another part of your body (usually your hip) and grafting it onto damaged vertebrae; posterior lumbar interbody fusion uses metal screws placed behind two or more vertebrae to stabilize them while they heal

How to get rid of sciatica pain

To start with, there are a few things you can do to ease your pain. Here's what you can try first:

  • Use a heating pad or cold pack. These two tools will help relieve inflammation and swelling in the affected area by stimulating blood flow, but only use one at a time for short periods of time (no more than 20 minutes). If you want to go with heat, apply it directly on the painful areas after stretching; if you want cooler temps, apply it before bedtime so that it can work overnight while you sleep.
  • Try TENS unit (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation). This device uses electrodes that deliver mild electrical currents directly into painful areas in order to stimulate damaged nerves and reduce pain signals sent through them.
  • Get creative with foam rolling: Start at one end of your body (feet) and roll back and forth until you reach another part of your body or get too tired or bored; repeat until all parts have been covered multiple times! It's best if someone else does this for you if possible because we all know how much fun rolling around on the floor can be...but don't let me stop anyone from doing this themselves either 🙂

When you should see a professional for sciatica pain

If you experience any of the following symptoms, it's time to see a professional:

  • Severe pain. If you have severe sciatica pain and cannot bear to be touched or sit still for more than a few minutes at a time, it's time to see a doctor.
  • Constant pain. When your sciatica pain does not go away at all or gets worse after initially improving with self-care measures, it's important that you seek medical attention as soon as possible.
  • Weakness or numbness in your legs. If left untreated, mild weakness may become permanent; if left untreated long enough, complete loss of feeling could occur—so this is an important sign that requires immediate action!
  • Fever and/or rash along with other signs of infection such as chills and fatigue are also reasons why seeing your regular health care provider would be beneficial under these circumstances (fever could mean an infection).

You have a great life ahead of you, so don't give up on finding pain relief.

It's important to keep moving forward because you have a great life ahead of you. Do not give up on finding pain relief! I hope this article helped you learn more about sciatica pain and how to deal with it. If you have any questions or comments, please let me know.

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