Sciatica is a very painful condition characterized by a sharp pain that begins in the lower back and radiates through the buttocks, usually into the leg. The sciatic nerve runs from the lumbar spine to the foot on each side of the body. If an abnormality in the lower back or hip causes the nerve to be compressed or irritated, sciatic pain results.
Anyone with sciatica knows of the fervent desire for a cure. There are a number of possible causes of sciatica, which complicates treatment. Since there is a distinct treatment plan for each cause of sciatica, there is no one-size-fits-all advice to give. There are, however, two mistakes that people with sciatica make that can, no matter what the cause, exacerbate the condition.
Mistake 1: Waiting
The pain symptomatic of sciatica is not your average back ache or muscle soreness. Nerve pain is very distinct from muscle pain; sharp and radiating, the pain may be accompanied by tingling or numbness along the nerve path. Sciatica pain is impossible to ignore, due to its unpleasantness. Yet many people do not seek medical attention right away. Some wait years, even, to seek treatment.
Whatever the cause of your sciatica, time alone is not likely going to resolve it. Muscle imbalances, herniated discs or misaligned vertebrae generally progress in severity if effort is not made to correct them. Exercise therapy is helpful for all of these conditions; balancing muscles and strengthening the core to support the bones and discs of the spine can relieve pressure off the sciatic nerve. Decompression therapy can assist in re-hydrating discs. Time alone will only worsen the condition.
It is true that not everyone has health care and can afford to seek professional treatment. In that case, it is necessary to research your condition. Keep detailed note of your experience of pain: When is it worst? When is it better? What exactly does it feel like? General core strengthening and stretching workouts can be pursued, but start slowly and do not do anything that exacerbates pain. See Spine-Health’s comprehensive article of specific sciatica exercise plans at Spine-Health.com for inspiration.
Although it is rare, prolonged impingement of the sciatic nerve can lead to nerve damage. This can cause a loss of function in the legs, bladder and bowels. These are emergency situations, and are best avoided at all costs.
Mistake 2: Relying on Medication
Doctors are trusted to take care of us when we are sick or injured. Many people with sciatica, however, are given pain medications, oral or injected, to deal with the pain without having the cause identified and treated. While pain management is an important component of recovery, it does not replace the need to eliminate the root of sciatica.
If you are administered pain medication without a plan for diagnosis and treatment, it is reasonable to protest. Requesting an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) test may be a good start, since it will show the condition of your bones and tissues. Keep in mind that not every abnormality that shows up on an MRI is necessarily the cause of your pain.
Ask to be assessed by a trained physical therapist for muscle imbalances. If any are found, the physical therapist can guide you in an exercise plan to resolve the imbalances. A referral to a chiropractor can help you resolve spinal alignment problems that could cause sciatica. Massage therapists can help with muscle imbalances and misalignment issues. Don’t hesitate to request referrals.