There's Hope for Sciatica

Pain or discomfort that travels along the sciatic nerve is called sciatica. The sciatic nerve runs from your lower back or hip, down through each buttock and into the back part of each leg. It usually affects only one side. Sciatica is often painful but rarely causes serious or permanent damage. Most sciatica is caused by inflammation. Usually, it can be diagnosed and treated successfully.

Sciatica pain may feel dull, aching, or burning. It is usually worse when sitting. Sometimes it starts gradually, worsens at night, and is aggravated by motion. It also can cause tingling, numbness, or muscle weakness in the leg.

The pain often results from pressure or irritation to the sciatic nerve. The pressure or irritation can have several causes, including a narrowing of the area in the lower back that the spinal cord passes through (a condition called lumbar spinal stenosis); a displaced, or herniated, disk in the lower spine; pregnancy; and a breakdown of the disks (a condition called degenerative disk disease).

Diagnosis

An exam by your health care provider probably can determine if you have sciatica. He or she may check your reflexes, foot and leg strength, and flexibility. Blood tests, X-rays, or MRI scans also may be recommended to help determine what's causing the condition.

Treatment

Unless you have diabetes or nerve damage, apply cold to your lower back for the first day or so. Doing this for 10 to 15 minutes at a time, three to four times a day may help relieve the pain. Then, alternating heat and cold may be soothing. Take an over-the-counter pain reliever if your health care provider says it's OK. Steroid injections, physical therapy, and surgery are other treatments.

Sciatica usually goes away on its own within six weeks of self-care. But, see your health care provider if the pain gets worse and it's difficult to do daily activities.

These are reasons to seek emergency help:

  • You have sudden loss of bowel or bladder control; lack of mobility; or numbness, tingling, or weakness in your legs or feet

  • You have numbness or tingling in a saddle pattern (the area of your body that would be touching the saddle if you were riding a horse)

 

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