Sciatica is a relatively common condition caused by an irritation of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is the largest in the body, starting from the spinal cord, running all the way through the buttocks and down to the feet. The condition is usually triggered by a herniated or ‘slipped’ disk in the back, causing the sciatic nerve to become compressed.
If you are suffering from sciatica and are looking for ways to reduce troublesome symptoms, this simple guide offers some useful tips.
When the sciatic nerve is irritated or pinched, it can cause pain, muscle weakness, numbness and a tingling sensation that travels from your back down one of your legs to your foot. While some people can experience discomfort in the back, the majority of the pain is usually felt in the pelvis area and the legs.
The degree of pain can vary greatly, from a mild ache to extreme discomfort. Sometimes it can be felt as a burning sensation. Sneezing, coughing, lifting, straining or sitting for long periods of time can also cause the pain to worsen.
When to see a doctor
In most cases, the pain will usually subside within six weeks, although in some cases it can last for a year or more. However, if your symptoms are particularly severe, persistent, or your pain increases over time, you may need to seek help from a medical professional. Your GP will be able to diagnose your condition and recommend suitable treatments.
If you experience a severe numbness between your legs and around your buttocks, or lose control of your bladder or bowels, you will need to seek immediate medical assistance. These symptoms may indicate a very rare but serious condition called equina syndrome.
Although sciatica will usually pass without the need for medical intervention, there are a few self-help techniques you can do at home to help ease the symptoms. For best results, you should try to incorporate treatment into your everyday routine.
First, it’s important that you are not doing anything that could be aggravating the problem. For example, having an unsupportive bed can add pressure to the sciatic nerve and cause the condition to worsen over time. Investing in an adjustable bed with a firm mattress can help to ease strain on the back and legs and reduce the likelihood of recurring symptoms. You may also benefit from a reclining chair to help you maneuver with ease.
Our range of adjustable beds and chairs come with a unique cyclo-massage system, which has been medically proven to provide long term pain relief from debilitating medical conditions such as sciatica. Massage therapy is a common method of treatment used to alleviate the aches and pains associated with the condition by increasing blood circulation and restoring mobility to the affected area.
For temporary relief, you can purchase painkillers such as ibuprofen or paracetamol. Using hot and cold packs on irritated areas can also help to ease discomfort. You can purchase these packs from most pharmacies, or make your own homemade versions by wrapping a towel around a bag of frozen peas and applying it to the inflamed area.
While being physically active is probably the last thing that you want to do if you have sciatica, it’s important to try and move around as much as possible. Simple exercises, such as walking or gentle forms of yoga and stretching, can help to reduce inflammation, strengthen the muscles in your back and improve lower back flexibility. Although resting may provide some temporary pain relief, prolonged inactivity is considered ineffective for treating the condition and will usually make the pain worse.
However, before starting a new exercise programme, it’s important to consult a healthcare professional who will be able to recommend exercises to suit your specific condition. Be mindful that you should only take part in activities that you feel comfortable with and stop any exercises that are causing you significant pain. For example, if you find that walking is too painful, try swimming instead to reduce the pressure on the back. Try to avoid activities that require you to lift or twist your body in awkward positions.
In severe cases of sciatica, your GP may refer you to a physiotherapist who will be able to devise an exercise programme based on the underlying cause of your condition. They will be able to teach you a specific set of exercises that work to improve your spine’s flexibility and your posture to reduce the chance of any future strain on your back.
If home treatments are not helping with your condition, your GP may prescribe stronger painkillers, such as codeine, or muscle relaxants to stop muscle spasms. However, these medications may cause serious side effects with some people and should not be used as a long term solution for sciatica. If these treatments are still failing to work and there has been no signs of improvement after six weeks, you may be referred to a specialist clinic for further medical treatment. It may be recommended that you have injections of anti-inflammatory medication into the spine to help release the pressure surrounding the sciatic nerve.
In rare cases, surgery may be recommended to resolve the problem in your spine that is thought to be triggering your symptoms, such as a herniated disc. However, this is usually a last resort and will only be considered if all other treatments have failed.
As well as standard medical treatments, there are a number of alternative treatments that can be beneficial for people with sciatica. For example, acupuncture is often used to help reduce back pain, while manual manipulation can be performed by a chiropractor to help improve the alignment of the spine and target the underlying issues that are causing pain in the sciatic nerve. However, the success rate of these methods can vary greatly from patient to patient.
To find out more about sciatica symptoms and treatments, you can take a look at the sciatica pain relief treatments page on our website.