According to Harvard Medical School, as many as 40% of people will experience sciatica, and 90% of the cases are caused by herniated disks. It’s often overlooked because people mistake it for common back pain. However, if left alone, it may evolve into a chronic condition. To avoid this from happening, here’s an in-depth guide to knowing sciatica, how to treat sciatic pain through osteopathy, and helpful tips to prevent it.
What Is Sciatica Pain And Symptoms
Sciatica refers to the pain felt in the buttock and leg caused by irritation on the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body that branches from the lower back and runs through the hips, buttocks, into the back of the thigh to the soles of the feet. It controls sensation and leg and foot function. People who work in the medical field call it lumbar radiculopathy.
What Causes It
Sciatica occurs due to a herniated disk in the lower spine or lumbar. The bones in the spine are cushioned and separated by round disks of connective tissue. These disks get worn out either by an injury or through natural aging. The progressive degeneration of the disk causes it to rupture. When the disk herniates, it can lead to inflammation, compression, or irritation of the sciatic nerve roots, which manifests as moderate to severe pain in the back, buttocks, and legs. The person may also feel numbness, tingling, and weakness in these areas.
Symptoms of Sciatica
The damage caused to the sciatic nerve either by excessive stress or aging can result in sciatica. Its most common symptom is the sharp pain from the lower back or buttock, which radiates down the thigh, leg, and feet. Other associated symptoms may include:
- Pain gets worse with every movement, like sitting, standing, twisting, or lying down.
- Numbness and weakness in the legs or feet. In serious cases, it may lead to a loss of feeling or movement.
- Painful, tingling sensations in the toes or feet
- Incontinence or the loss of control over your bladder and bowels
- Feeling of heaviness in one leg.
What are the Risk Factors?
Sciatica rarely occurs to people under the age of 20 unless it’s traumatic. There’s no gender predominance for it, and it can happen to as many as 40% of people. Peak incidence hits people in their 40s, and the risk rises for people in their 50s and 60s due to aging. In those with prior sciatic symptoms, physical activity can increase the incidence rate but decreases in those without symptoms.
Lifestyle is also another variable that increases the susceptibility to sciatica. People who smoke, sit for long periods, and are overweight are prone to getting sciatica than those who don’t. Occupational predisposition, where people are subject to physical stress and awkward positions for long stretches, can inflame sciatic nerves.
Sciatica vs. Back Pain
It’s easy to misinterpret the symptoms of sciatica with back pain because they exhibit nearly similar signs. But what’s the difference?
With usual back pain, the feeling of discomfort sticks in the lower back only. Meanwhile, people with sciatica experience pain from the lower back to their legs. If you feel the latter symptom, it’s recommended to see your doctor for a check-up.
More often, people completely recover from sciatica without treatment. However, it can cause irreversible damage to the nerves, especially if left untreated for a long time. While severe cases are unlikely, some sciatic symptoms may be a red flag for health conditions that need immediate medical attention.
Some specific sciatic signs may imply a serious medical concern, such as spinal tumors, infection, or cauda equina syndrome. The person may exhibit symptoms like bowel and bladder incontinence, sexual dysfunction, and progressive neurological signs. Sciatica that develops after an accident or trauma with accompanying fever or loss of appetite may indicate a serious medical concern.
Symptoms of acute sciatica may go away within one to two weeks without any complications. However, when sciatica recurs or flares up, it may turn into chronic sciatica, a life-long condition. When sciatic nerves flare up, it shouldn’t last more than four to six weeks. Remember to consult your doctor if you notice something is amiss.
How to Treat Sciatic Pain through Osteopathy
Before any treatment is given, an osteopath will conduct a thorough assessment and case history to determine the root cause and the exact location of the affected areas. After examination, an osteopath proceeds with the treatment. Massage therapy, myofascial release, and rhythmic stretching are some of the treatment options.
In this situation, the goal of osteopathy is to alleviate the painful symptoms of sciatica. A combination of muscle manipulation, tendon, and joint articulation can reduce the stress on the trapped nerve. Osteopathic treatment works by diminishing muscle spasms and enhancing joint flexibility and spinal function mobility.
Part of the osteopathic treatment will include rehabilitation methods and recovery exercises that you can do to prevent recurring sciatica. This involves sets of activities that help restore mobility, activate the muscles, and build postural strength.
How to Prevent Sciatica?
While sciatica is quite common, it’s also preventable. Here are some tips to avoid it.
Regular exercise: Core muscle exercises can help promote proper posture and alignment. They help keep the muscles in the abdomen and lower back strong. Before you hit the gym, be sure to check your doctor first.
Proper body mechanics: Create a sturdy foundation when standing by keeping the feet apart. If you bend, use the knees instead of the waist. When moving, move straight up and down and keep the back flat. Proper body mechanics reduces the strain in your body.
Observe proper sitting posture: Find a seat that provides support for the lower back. You can also place a pillow in the lumbar or small of the back to maintain the spinal’s normal curve. Keep the knees and hips at a similar level.
Self-Help Tips on How to Treat Sciatic Pain
The jolt-like pain or burning sensations due to sciatic symptoms can be hard to ignore. Here are some at-home tips to reduce the swelling and ease the pain.
1. Ice therapy
Wrap the ice pack in a clean towel and apply to the swollen area for at least 20 minutes. Do this several times a day for the first two to three days for the pain to subside.
2. Heat therapy
After about three days, shift to using heat packs or a heating pad. If pain persists, alternate using an ice pack and a heating pad.
3. Stretching and regular exercises
Your body produces endorphins while you exercise. Endorphins are your body’s natural pain relievers. Therefore, the more you involve in physical activities, the pain in the body eases off. Plus, you also develop endurance and strength in your core. This can reduce the likelihood of getting back problems in the future.
Since up to 40% of people develop sciatica, we often overlook it. However, you shouldn’t be too complacent when it comes to your health. If you feel it’s no longer a simple back pain, visit an osteopath to learn how to treat sciatic pain. Better yet, book an appointment today.