What Exactly Is Sciatic Pain?

Back pain is something most of us experience at some point in our lives, whether it’s after a strenuous workout or a lazy day hunched over a computer. But sometimes, this pain can be excruciating and debilitating, so much so that it seems to spread all the way down to the foot. If this has happened to you, you may have a condition called sciatica.

Sciatica is lower back pain caused by pressure on the sciatic nerve. This is the longest nerve of the body, starting from both sides of the lower spinal cord and running down the back of each leg to the foot. Injury or pressure on the sciatic nerve can cause pain in the lower back that radiates to the hips, buttocks, and legs. Most people recover from sciatica without the need for any medical procedure.1

What Can Cause Sciatica?

There are a number of issues that can cause this painful pinching of the sciatic nerve, including:

  • A ruptured, slipped, or herniated disc of the spinal cord can exert pressure on the nerve root. This is one of the most common causes of sciatica. 2
  • Piriformis syndrome: Sciatica can occur when the small piriformis muscle that lies deep in the buttocks becomes tight or rigid and traps the sciatic nerve next to it.
  • Spinal stenosis: The narrowing of the spinal canal that houses the nerve puts pressure on the sciatic nerve.
  • Spondylolisthesis: The spinal cord is made up of 33 vertebrae stacked on top of one another. When one of these vertebrae slips out of line, it narrows the opening where the nerves sit, putting pressure on the nerves and causing pain.3

How Do You Know If You Have Sciatica?

Some of the common symptoms of sciatica pain include:

  • A burning pain in the buttocks
  • Aches in the back of the legs, including the hamstrings and calves
  • A tingling pain that feels like needles or pins piercing the feet and ankles
  • Weakness of the muscles in the feet and legs

You may also experience increased pain while lifting heavy objects or coughing due to the extra strain on the back muscles.4

What Can Increase Your Risk Of Sciatica?

  • Age: Aging increases the wear and tear of the body and makes it more prone to herniated discs and bone spurs.
  • Obesity: Excess body weight puts pressure on your spine, increasing the chances of spinal damage.
  • Occupation: Any job that may add stress and strain to your back muscles – even sitting in uncomfortable positions for a long time – can lead to sciatica.
  • Lifestyle: A sedentary lifestyle that involves sitting for long periods without exercising will weaken your back muscles.
  • Diabetes: The more your blood sugar is out
    of balance, the greater chance your body will experience nerve damage.5

How To Treat And Relieve Sciatica

Most often, sciatica can be relieved through self-care. You can apply a hot pack, cold pack, or alternate between the two. Over-the-counter pain relievers can also be helpful. Mild stretching exercises of the back help to relieve the pressure on the nerves and may ease the pain.6

Alternative Therapies For Further Relief

Gentle yoga exercises can align, lengthen, and strengthen back muscles. Yoga can also help manage herniation and

the problems associated with it. It also brings relief in sciatica that is caused by a short, tight piriformis.7

Both acupuncture and chiropractic therapies have shown to be effective for those experiencing sciatica. In fact, a combination of acupuncture, moxibustion (a traditional Chinese medicine therapy), collateral pricking, and cupping has proven to completely cure those suffering from long-term sciatica.8 Of course, with any of these treatments, be sure to choose well-qualified and trained professionals.