What is Sciatica?

Know the Common Causes & Symptoms of this Condition

If you have been feeling a burning or tingling pain in your lower back that reaches down to your buttock or leg, you may be suffering from sciatica. However, sciatica is not a medical diagnosis in and of itself, but a symptom of an underlying condition.

Leading causes of sciatica include:

  • Lumbar herniated disc
  • Lumbar spinal stenosis
  • Spondylolisthesis or a slippage of vertebrae in your spine
  • Piriformis syndrome
  • Spinal tumors
  • Trauma

Sciatica is very common with over three million cases in the United States reported each year. It occurs when the large sciatic nerve gets irritated or compressed. Pain caused by sciatica is characterized by mild to intense pain on one side of your lower extremities, numbness or difficulty in moving your legs down to your toes as well as worsening pain when sitting. It is also possible to feel a sharp pain when standing up or walking. While these symptoms may sound worse, it is rare to develop a permanent sciatica nerve damage or spinal cord problems.

Diagnosis & Treatment of Sciatica

When your sciatica is becoming unbearable, it is important to have it diagnosed by a doctor immediately to help you with the pain. In determining your sciatica, you will have to perform a physical exam and your medical history will be reviewed. X-Rays, CT scans, and MRIs may also be used to identify the exact cause of your sciatica. Depending on your actual medical condition, treatment is usually non-surgical and easily manageable. For acute sciatica, doctors traditionally advocate bed rest for up to two weeks. Other treatment plans include pain management medications such as pain relievers, muscle relaxants, and anti-inflammatories.

Helpful Exercises for Pain Management

While moving may seem painful for individuals suffering from sciatica, some stretch exercises are known to alleviate sciatica pain.

Here are some exercises that you can try:

  • Knee to chest stretch- Lie on your back with a flat cushion or book as a pillow for your head. Bend your knees and keep them apart with your feet straight and flat on the ground. Bend one knee up towards your chest. Grasp your hamstring with both hands and slowly straighten the knee while gently bringing the knee towards you. Hold for at least 20 seconds and bring it down to the original position. Begin with the other leg and repeat for at least two to three times.
  • Seated hip stretch- Sit with your legs straight in front of you. Cross your right leg over your straightened left leg. With both hands, grasp your right knee as if hugging towards your left side while keeping your back straight. Hold this position for at least 30 to 60 seconds then repeat on the other side.
  • Pigeon pose- Begin by kneeling on all four with your back straight. You may also want to start with a downward-facing-dog pose. Move your right knee between your hands while extending your left leg straight behind you. Slowly turn your right knee to your right so that your right leg is bent. Keep your back straight and hold the position for at least five to 10 seconds then switch to the other side. If it is not too painful, you may also try to stretch your back upwards or lean your upper body forward towards your bent leg.

It’s normal to feel pain at the beginning of doing these exercises. Just make sure to pace slowly and with care. If you feel that the pain is becoming worse and debilitating, stop doing the exercises completely and ask your healthcare professional for some advice on other physical activities that can help you with your sciatica.

This article contains general information about medical conditions and treatments. The information is not advice and should not be treated as such. The information is not intended to replace the advice or diagnosis of a physician. If you have any specific questions about any medical matter you should consult your doctor or other professional healthcare providers.