Sciatica – Symptoms and Simple Pain Relief Methods
Sciatica pain can be debilitating. It can come on gradually as a gnawing, numbing type of pain moving down the back of the leg that slowly drives you mad, or it can come on suddenly as a red-hot burning type of pain- leaving you incapaciated. The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the human body, so it should be no surprise that sciatica is one of the most common issues seen by musculoskeletal physiotherapists here at Erko Physio. The most common cause of sciatic pain is compression of the sciatic nerve, causing pain to move down the back of the leg but could really be described as more of a pain in the butt, hip, hamstring or lower back. Because the sciatic nerve runs through so many major parts of the body, it is common to see sciatica misdiagnosed as other localised conditions, meaning a longer recovery time and no shortage of pain. Sciatica pain can cause a range of pain types from short and sharp, to infrequent and dull to debilitating. Due to sciatica often being misdiagnosed, this can lead to ineffective treatment which may cause pain to worsen. In this Erko Physio blog post, we will highlight the typical symptoms and causes of sciatica, and we’ll also offer up some simple pain relief methods you can practice at home.
What is Sciatica?
Humans are equipped with a sciatic nerve running down the lower back, through the buttocks and hamstrings before reaching the lower leg. It is not uncommon for active people to irritate this nerve during physical activity, however it may also occur in more sedentary people with jobs that require a large amount of sitting. Sciatica primarily affects people aged 30-50 years, with causes and severity varying from person to person. The condition may be due to general wear and tear, or it may be due to a lumbar bulging disc, spine degeneration, facet joint arthritis or a number of other factors.
Where is Pain Felt?
You will normally notice pain within your lower back, and this may spread to other areas of your lower body. Pain can range from dull to sharp, and some people may experience a burning sensation. It is important that you seek a professional diagnosis as quickly as possible to minimise the risk of permanent nerve damage if the spinal nerves are severely being compressed- causing altered bladder and bowel function, or loss of sensation through the ‘saddle’ region of this groin. Your doctor or physiotherapist will be able to narrow down the root cause of the problem, with some of the most common being:
- Lumbar disc herniation
- Narrowing of the spine
Treatment of Sciatica
Your physiotherapist will advise you on the best course of treatment. This usually includes:
- Advice, education and understanding of the condition. Also figuring out the aggravating and easing factors for your pain, to better equip you to manage your pain throughout the day
- Hands on therapy to ease sciatic pain- ranging from soft tissue massage, joint mobilisation, pelvic adjustments, taping and dry needling.
- A mix of stretches, exercises and posture corrections to help address the core muscles to better support the recovery of your sciatic nerve
If you follow the recommended course of physiotherapy treatment, pain should begin to subside within around 3 months. We will also provide you with a advice on how to prevent the sciatic pain from reoccurring
Try These 3 Easy Home Treatment Options
If you experience a flare up, try the following helpful tips to reduce the pain.
- Heat or Ice Packs
Heat and ice packs have long been the go-to option for immediate pain relief, and it’s worth keeping a few on hand in case of a flare up. The current research shows that both heat or ice are both effective in easing pain. The pain is eased by creating new sensations on the skin for the brain to process, which distracts your brain from the sciatic pain information because it’s now too busy processing the new hot/cold information. For this reason, we advise people to choose the type of pack they’ll find most comfortable on the skin.
Ice: Use an ice pack wrapped in a soft towel OR wrap ice blocks from the freezer. Put the ice pack on your lower back and leave it for around 15 minutes. This will assist in reducing inflammation and pain.
Heat Therapy: Using a hot water bottle or electric heating pad, place the heating device against the affected area for between 10-20 minutes. Heat therapy will help to stimulate blood flow whilst also relaxing muscles and reducing pain.
You can use a tennis ball to massage the affected area. Simply place the ball on your buttock or upper thigh and roll back and forth. You will quickly identify the area most in need of massage. Don’t be rough, all you need is a little bit of gentle pressure to ease the pain.
It can be hard to know what exercises are right to do. Some may help alleviate your symptoms and some may make you worse. It is best to consult your physio before starting exercises especially if your pain is severe. One type of exercise that’s worth trying due to its simplicity and effectiveness is walking. Going for a short and gentle walk can be a great way to ease sciatic pain as well as aid with recovery. Just remember to start small and not to push into pain.
Suffering Sciatica Pain? Contact Erko Physio Today
If sciatica pain is giving you trouble, we would love to help. The friendly and professional team of physiotherapists at Erko Physio in Sydney’s Inner West can confidently diagnose and treat your condition, helping you regain full physical function and minimising the risk of permanent nerve damage. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.