Lower back and leg pain are typical sciatica symptoms – a condition that affects millions of men and women in equal numbers worldwide. The good news however is that 90% of cases are relatively easy to treat.
Complete Guide to Sciatica Symptoms, Causes And Cures.
Sciatica describes nerve pain that can be experienced in the lower back, buttocks, legs, and right down to the feet. Normally caused by an irritation or compression of the sciatic nerve (the longest nerve in the human body), sciatica causes pain that can pulse down the back of the legs and in this guide, we will take you through everything you need to know including the causes and treatments.
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The Sciatic Nerve.
As you’ll see from the image below, starting in the lower back, the sciatic nerve runs, both side of the body, through the buttock, down the thigh and then right down to the foot. Because of its ability to send signals from the spine itself to the lower body, it plays a vital role and as a result of its length, it’s a really important nerve which is why and damage or inflammation (such as a bulging or herniated disc) will cause pain in the entire lower body and it’s this pain we know as sciatica.
Lower Back And Leg Pain – Sciatica Symptoms.
Sciatica is relatively easy to identify as it will typically only effect one side, either the right side or the left side and start in the lower back but radiate through the buttocks, the hip and down the leg. So, rather than just affecting the back it’s more of a lower back and leg pain affecting either the right or left side. The image above would clearly result in leg and lower back pain right side but it could just as easily affect the left nerve and leg.
The actual pain can vary in severity and can also be made worse by sudden movements (be careful when you sneeze or cough!) or when changing positions (from a sitting to standing for example).
To describe the actual sciatica pain itself – it’s a kind of burning or sharp cramp like pain which can be accompanied by a tingling sensation, pins and needles or numbness. It’s different to general lower back pain in the fact that you can feel it all the way down one leg to below the knee. It can also cause a weakness in the muscles around the calf area. Once it has taken effect, sciatica can even cause muscle contractions and coughing.
Damage to the right nerve will cause lower back and leg pain down the right side of the body and damage to the left nerve will cause lower back pain down the right side – often all the way down to the foot.
The lower back and leg pain will often be greatest in the early stages when sciatic nerve compression or inflammation is at its worst.
Causes Of Sciatic Nerve Damage.
Sciatica symptoms are caused by either inflammation or compression of the sciatic nerve and, in truth, there are a number of problems that can cause this health issue.
- Spinal Injury – Firstly, any inflammation that comes as a result of spinal damage will put pressure on the sciatic nerve which can lead to even more problems.
- Spinal Stenosis – Although rarer than some other causes, the spinal cord can narrow from large ligaments. When this happens, it causes compression on the nerve and leads to lower back pain.
- Slipped Disc – Perhaps more commonly, sciatica can come from the interior of the disc bulging after a herniated outer casing of the disc. If this occurs, compression on the nerve will lead to discomfort and pain.
- Spinal Infection – Although it is very rare for the spine to succumb to infection, it is still worth considering if the other causes are not at fault.
- Spondylolisthesis – Here, the vertebrae will move more than it should which can come from poor posture and ageing.
Often, the amount of pressure or compression that the nerve is having to endure will decide how much lower back and leg pain or discomfort you feel. Of course, this will also depend on exactly where the compression is located as to where the pain will start.
On the whole, there is no one treatment that will cure the lower back and leg pain in all cases of sciatica because it will completely depend on the cause. Traditionally, rest and medication was the go-to treatment option but, although it worked in the short-term, it treats the sciatica symptoms rather than the main cause. Sticking with common treatments, physiotherapy is another solution and this is a lot better because it starts to look at why the pain is occurring and how the problem can be solved so it doesn’t happen again. However, there has to be an emphasis on the right exercises because the wrong choice can worsen the problem.
Sciatica Exercises: For many people who have suffered with sciatica symptoms, the pain has been described as ‘electric shocks’ and this makes sense because the nerve that runs down the lower half of your body has been irritated. Even though exercises may seem like the last thing you want to do, you have to understand that exercise allows the muscles to stay active.
With this in mind, you will more than likely be given an exercise program that aims to maintains strength and reduce the compression on the nerve through mobility and strengthening exercises. In the short-term, this can actually lead to quick relief but you shouldn’t just get a randomised program from the internet. When people say that they have tried exercise programs and that it didn’t work, it is probably because they were doing the wrong exercises; let’s delve a little deeper.
Importance of Choosing Exercises: As we have already discussed, there are a number of ways that sciatica can be caused so how can one exercise program be the ‘fix-all’ solution? For people with spinal infections, they will want to do different exercises to those who have a slipped disc who, in turn, will do different exercises than those with enlarged ligaments etc. If you choose the wrong exercises, you could end up causing more damage and increasing your recovery time.
For example, exercises that utilise the lumbar range of motion would be harmful if your sciatica was caused from excessive bending of the spine. However, the exact same exercises would work wonders for people who blame excessive muscle tightening around the nerve as the problem. Nowadays, the internet is a wonderful resource but you need to check that the exercises are appropriate either by searching for your health problem specifically or double checking a program with your doctor.
Creating an Exercise Program: – Even after you choose the right exercises, there is another problem in that many programs do not combine the right ingredients in order to provide a long-term solution. However, we have some tips for what makes up an effective program.
- Must contain exercises that reduce stress on the lower back.
- Start slow before building up in intensity.
- Prevent muscle weakness whilst trying not to aggravate the condition.
- Correct form with every exercise so each session has the maximum benefit.
- Finally, exercises that target the underlying problem as opposed to just alleviating the short-term effects.
If a program lacks in any of these key area, the long lasting effects are likely to be minimised. Although short-term relief may come, it won’t get to grips with the real problem.
Curing Sciatica at Home.
If you’re tired of the lower back and leg pain and are fed up of going to the doctors only for them to tell you the same thing every time, we have three different treatments that you can use at home. Rather than just covering up the problem, these are cures that have a positive impact on sciatica symptoms now, a week from now, and, if done effectively, years from now. Don’t forget, a very high percentage of sciatica problems are treatable.
Balanced Diet: To prevent health issues from recurring, you need to ensure that you enjoy a healthy, balanced diet and sciatica is no different. Firstly, this means that you should drink more water because dehydration is known to deflate sections of the spine which increases the pressure you feel on your sciatic nerve.
Furthermore, you should avoid foods that will inflame because they will cause pressure on the sciatic nerve. Ultimately, there are endless food items on this list but the main offenders will be anything with a high sugar content.
Home Exercise Program: Once you have the diet in place, you can then complement this with a home exercise program. Whilst food and drink can only do so much, your exercise program should look to stretch and therefore strengthen sections of the body that have been causing you pain. As we have discussed already, an effective exercise plan combines a number of different factors and takes the cause of your problem into consideration.
With that in mind, it is also important to have days of relaxation too because too much exercise won’t allow your body to recuperate and heal. If you want to relax whilst doing light exercise, a brisk walk would be the ideal solution. When we start to feel pain, we tend to let it get us down and see it as a sign that we should lie in bed for a few days. However, the opposite is actually true – to keep the sciatica symptoms of lower back and leg pain at bay you should be looking to keep the muscles loose.
Home Remedies: Finally, you can finish this trio of curing sciatica symptoms at home tips with some good old home remedies. Rather than paying out extortionate amounts of money, home remedies are great because they are cheap and easy. One such widely and highly regarded remedy is simply eating peanuts! Peanuts are a fantastic solution because they contain magnesium that boasts the ability of helping muscles to relax. By consuming a small portion of peanuts per day, the muscles will ease and the pressure around the sciatic nerve will be less intense.
Sciatica Symptoms Are Fully-Treatable.
If you have ever had or are now suffering with the lower back and leg pain associated with sciatica, you know just how frustrating it can be. For many, the solution is to spend a lot of money with the risk that the problem doesn’t even get solved. Despite this, there is one positive that everybody suffering with the problem should know, permanent damage only occurs on the rare occasion meaning that, even if you have been suffering for many years, the chances of you recovering and feeling fine in the future are still good.
Furthermore, the right solutions can lead you down a quick path to a pain-free life with some people claiming to be fully healed within a week. Therefore, it is all about finding the right treatment and dealing with the root cause of the issue.
Conventional Treatment? – When you first decide to visit your doctor, they will prescribe some medication as a short-term relief and this is great because it reduces inflammation. However, you can’t keep taking medication for the rest of your life. In most cases, drugs will be a ‘wallpaper over the cracks’ solution in that they make things seem better but they never cure the underlying problem.
Of course, most painkillers have their side-effects too such as diarrhoea, stomach pain, and bloating. What’s even worse, drugs mask pain which means that you suddenly don’t know when you are doing something that would normally cause you pain. When the medication wears off, you will be in a whole new world of pain. In recent years, this seems to have become more of a problem because modern medicine likes to use drugs as a problem ‘solver’.
Chiropractors? – If you talk to your doctor about other solutions away from medication, they will also suggest chiropractic manipulation. Despite being championed by many, there is actually little to no evidence that the process yields a positive response with regards to sciatic pain. Additionally, we have recently seen many reports that suggest that ‘cauda equina’ is caused by chiropractic manipulation. In essence, this is a serious lower back issue that can lead to a loss of bladder control and even sexual dysfunction. When there isn’t any evidence to suggest its effectiveness and there is a risk of even more health problems, it is tricky to see why it comes so highly-recommended.
Recommended Sciatica Treatment.
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