It is estimated that 40% of people will suffer from it at some point in life, with older adults at an increased risk.
“Your risk also rises if you’re you're obese, if you smoke, or if you're sedentary," says Dr. Jeffrey N. Katz, professor of medicine and orthopedic surgery at Harvard Medical School.
What is Sciatica?
The sciatic nerve is the thickest and longest nerve in the human body. It extends from the lower back down both legs. Sciatica pain refers to the discomfort that affects thisnerve. This pain typically affects one side of the body and can range from mild tosevere. It is a common misconception that sciatica itself is a condition. Rather, it is asymptom indicative of an underlying condition such as a herniated disc or a bone spuron the spine.
The most common symptom associated with sciatica is pain that originates in the lower lumbar region of the spine.
This discomfort can extend can along the nerve pathway to your buttocks and down your leg. The sciatic nerve then separates into other nerves, which continue down to your feet and toes. This is why numbness and tingling in the feet and toes is another commonly reported symptom associated with sciatica
Sciatica pain can vary widely, from mild to excruciating. Some patients describe it as a sharp burning sensation while others describe it as akin to feeling an electric shock. Periods of prolonged sitting, strenuous activity, and stress can aggravate symptoms.
So what can we do to treat it?
While sciatic pain can be excruciating, many cases can be resolved within a few weeks with non-operative treatments. In fact, self-care measures are often very effective in managing symptoms.
Apply an ice pack to the affected area for 20 minutes, several times a day, or whenever you experience a flare-up. This should provide some relief and decrease inflammation and swelling.
Lower back pain relief products
Some devices such as NeuroMD’s CorrectiveTherapy Device provide electrical stimulation to the lower lumbar region of the spine, activating spinal stabilizing muscles which can provide long-lasting relief from pain.
Perform some gentle stretching with the help of an instructor experienced with lower back pain. If you feel up for it, consider trying yoga. Clinical studies have shown that Yoga can decrease pain and improve mobility for individuals with sciatica.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) medications such as aspirin and ibuprofen can provide relief from sciatic pain. Be mindful of how much aspirin you take as high-doses have been linked to stomach bleeding and ulcers.
Every case of Sciatica is different. However, it is best to consult with a healthcare professional if a self-care regimen doesn’t improve symptoms within six weeks.
Here are a few things medical treatment options may include:
Physical therapy is often the first line of prescribed treatment for sciatica. An exercise program consisting of special stretches can improve mobility and provide relief from symptoms. Physical therapy can also help prevent recurrences and future flare-ups.
Your doctor may prescribe muscle relaxants such as cyclobenzaprine to reduce spasms and relax tight muscles. Other medications may be prescribed as part of your treatment plan including anti-seizure medications and oral steroids. Oral steroids are typically prescribed to treat cases of acute sciatica in which the spinal nerve has become inflamed.
Spinal injections of a corticosteroid, an anti-inflammatory medicine, into the affected region may reduce pain and swelling. It varies from case to case, but relief can be short-lived or last some time. Consult with your healthcare provider to learn if epidural injections are a possible treatment option.
When does surgery become an option?
Surgery is usually considered a last-line of treatment for sciatica. When several non-surgical options have been tried and failed, and in most cases, your healthcare provider may recommend a microdiscectomy.
During this minimally invasive surgical procedure, pieces of a herniated disc that are pressing on a nerve are removed.
Recovery time varies from patient to patient, but generally speaking, it can range anywhere from six weeks to three months. Your surgeon will advise you on when you can resume regular activities