Sciatica is the term for pain that travels down the leg and is caused by the irritation of the main nerve that travels into the leg, called the sciatic nerve. This pain usually generates from where the nerve passes through the lumbar vertebrae, or the lower bones of the spine.
Sciatica is often seen in combination with lower back pain and is often characterised as pain that travels down the leg, sometimes below the knee and even into the foot. The lower leg muscles may experience numbness or weakness.
Causes of Sciatica
The most common cause of sciatica is a prolapsed intervertebral disc, or what is more commonly referred to as a “slipped disc.” These discs can be described as cushions that separate the bones of the spine. A disc can become strained, or its harder outer ring can become weak, allowing the softer centre to bulge, becoming a herniated disc.
The disc can then press against the nerves that make up the sciatic nerve, causing the pain that travels down the leg. Sciatica can be caused in other ways as well, including putting pressure on the nerve by a rough or enlarged vertebra, which can be caused by aging, as well as infections or tumours, although these are much rarer.
While those that have suffered from sciatica pain for several weeks should certainly see a doctor in order to help relieve the pain, there are a number of red flags that sciatica sufferers should be on the watch for.
Some of these red flags include if you are younger than twenty or older than fifty-five when the problem started, if the pain follows a violent injury, if the pain never diminishes or is constantly getting worse, if you have ever had or are currently suffering from cancer, if the pain appears at the back of the chest, if you are taking steroids, if you have recently lost a great deal of weight, or if you have a great deal of difficulty bending forwards.
Those that are suffering from any of these additional symptoms along with the sciatica should plan to see a doctor as soon as possible.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Sciatica
Sciatica can be easily diagnosed with a CT scan or an MRI, which not only shows the skeletal system but the softer spinal structures as well. These kinds of tests will easily show if and how a nerve is being pressed against, which will help point your doctor towards the best form of treatment. In many cases, sciatica, like lower back pain, will work itself out in time.
The best course of action in the beginning is to continue your daily routine as much as possible, as staying active can actually help the back to recover on its own. Take mild analgesics (pain relievers) such as Ibuprofen or Paracetamol and try to limit the amount of time you spend in bed because of the pain. If the pain increases or lasts more than two weeks, make an appointment to consult your doctor.