The sciatic nerve and sciatica symptoms treatments

A holistic approach to therapy can help to alleviate sciatic pain. Before we get into effective sciatica symptoms treatments we’d like to provide an overview of sciatic pain itself and its symptoms as well as further information about what is the sciatic nerve.

What is sciatica pain?

Sciatica, known as ischialgia in medical terms, is a type of neuralgia pain. The pain is caused by the sciatic nerve and is known as sciatica. It usually has a sudden onset and radiates from the lumbar region through to the buttocks and down to the leg. In most cases, only one side of the body, i.e. only one leg, is affected by severe pain.

Causes and symptoms of sciatic pain

Causes

In many cases, sciatica is caused by changes through wear to the two lower discs in the spine. These discs lie between the fourth and fifth lumbar vertebrae as well as between the fifth vertebra and the sacral vertebrae. This is the area where the sciatic nerve begins, the longest and thickest nerve in the human body. Significant disc protrusion puts pressure on the lumbar vertebrae. This leads to the kind of severe sciatic pain that’s so notorious: the sciatic nerve itself or the nerve roots in the spinal cord are pinched and this obviously has consequences.

Other causes for sciatic pain can be tense muscles in the lumbar spine, which is where the sciatic nerve originates. Blocking the vertebral bodies in this area can also cause sciatica. Expectant mothers can experience this. Pain stops after the birth, when the pressure caused by the unborn child subsides. Hip operations can also cause sciatica if severe pressure is exerted on the sciatic nerve or if it’s been damaged. Inflammatory diseases, such as nerve inflammation as well as tumors can also be causes, although this is rare.

Symptoms

A typical symptom is sudden pain, which runs from the lumbar spine region down the leg. This pain can often be so strong that moving is almost impossible. Bending and twisting the upper body is extremely difficult for those affected and many can’t stand straight anymore, having to bend to one side to relieve the pain. Physicians call such pain neuropathic pain.

If the fibers of the fifth lumbar nerve root (L5) are affected, sciatic pain runs from the buttocks down the outside back part of the thigh, down the outer knee and down the outside of the lower leg. It can even reach the outside of the ankle. If there’s damage to the sacral spinal nerve (S1), sciatic pain runs from the sacrum through the buttocks to the back of the upper leg. The pain continues through the back of the knee to the foot.

In rare cases, sciatic pain can cause lack of sensitivity and symptoms of paralysis in the leg. Leg problems caused by sciatica are typical. Patients typically have problems standing on tiptoe or on their heels. The sensation is often described as tingling or numbness in the legs. In addition, this can weaken the Achilles tendon reflex.

If the sciatic nerve is trapped due to a slipped disc, the pain is often worse when you cough, sneeze or through pressure (e.g. during a bowel movement) as well as when moving. Problems can sometimes arise when passing urine or stools. When sciatica is due to inflammation, the pain can get worse at night.

What is the sciatic nerve?

The sciatic nerve is the longest and at the same time the thickest nerve of the human body. It has its origin in the spinal cord: its roots lie between the fourth lumbar vertebra and the second sacral vertebra. From this region, the sciatic nerve then runs through the buttocks and the thigh and down the entire leg to the foot.

The course of the sciatic nerve

The purpose of the sciatic nerve is to transmit stimuli and other information such as, for example, temperature sensation from the area it serves to the spinal cord. The messages are then sent to the brain which processes them and responds accordingly. The sciatic nerve is there to transmit commands from the master nerve center, the brain, through the spinal cord to the leg. For example, these could be instructions to the muscles to stretch out or contract. (More information on the sciatic nerve can be found on Wikipedia.)

Diagnosis

Sciatica can be diagnosed quickly based on the typical pain symptoms. However, it takes further examination to diagnose the pain more precisely and the severity of the sciatica.

Sciatica symptoms treatments – What can help with sciatica?

  • Pain relief

Initially, it’s important to get some relief for the severe pain as quickly as possible. In many cases, anaesthetics that work on the local area or anti-inflammatory drugs such as cortisone are given, which also help the muscles to relax to bring back some mobility.

  • Taking it easy and keeping warm

In addition to treating the pain, the patient should take it easy, resting in bed if necessary and elevating the leg affected by sciactica. It’s also a good idea to keep the lumbar vertebrae area warm. Using a hot water bottle or a heat pad on this area is a good solution.

  • Physiotherapy and massages

A good way to help sciatica, and even to prevent its onset, is specific physiotherapy exercises as well as massage. These are important for relaxing muscles, stabilizing the spine and preventing poor posture as well as learning to move in ways that are kind to your back. It’s particularly important to strengthen your core muscles. This helps to support and stabilize the spine and is a great way to free up your discs.

  • Acupuncture

This tried and tested method of traditional Chinese medicine has proved to be effective in treating sciatica as well as lumbago.

  • Relaxation therapy

Relaxation exercises can be useful for back pain. How someone feels pain and how well they can manage their pain can be dealt with on a psychological level.