Stand Up: Keeping Sciatic Pain at Bay
It can be triggered by a sneeze or cough--an excruciating pain, tingling or numbness running from your buttocks down one leg to your foot. In many cases, sciatica will improve and go away with time. But a wide variety of treatments are available to help relieve the pain. A Radiating Pain
The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in your body, running from your spinal cord to your buttock and hip and down the back of each leg.
"Sciatica refers to pain that radiates along the nerve and is actually the symptom of another problem, such as a displaced disk, narrowing of the spinal canal, nerve root compression or bone spur," said Luis Cervantes, MD, a neurosurgeon on staff at Lourdes Medical Center of Burlington County. "In rare cases, sciatica can be caused by a tumor or pregnancy."
Symptoms of sciatica include:
- pain that radiates from your lower (lumbar) spine to your buttock and the back of your thigh and calf;
- numbness or muscle weakness;
- tingling or a pins-and-needles feeling, often in your toes or part of your foot;
- a loss of bladder or bowel control. This is a sign of cauda equina syndrome, a rare but serious condition that requires emergency treatment.
Mild sciatica can go away on its own within six weeks of self-care. Unless you have diabetes or nerve damage, apply cold to your lower back for the first day or so. Doing this for 10 to 15 minutes at a time, three to four times a day, may help relieve the pain. Then, alternating heat and cold may be soothing. Take an over-the-counter pain reliever if your health care provider says it's OK. Avoid sitting, unless it's more comfortable than standing, and alternate lying down with short walks.
If symptoms persist, see a physician, who will ask about your medical history and perform a thorough exam, including exercises to check your muscle strength and reflexes. Your doctor also may order an MRI.
Depending on how you progress with pain relievers, your doctor may suggest physical therapy or corticosteroid injections.
"However, if conservative treatments don't work, your doctor may recommend surgery," Dr. Cervantes said. "This may include lumbar laminectomy, removing a portion of the herniated disk pressing on the nerve."Prevention
It's not always possible to prevent sciatica, and the condition may recur. But Dr. Cervantes suggests the following to help protect your back:
Frank Pileggi, Ph.D., director of the Lourdes Institute of Wholistic Studies, uses corrective muscle therapy to treat a variety of conditions. Call the Lourdes Wellness Center at 856-869-3127 or 856-234-9006 to make an appointment.
The Lourdes Medical Center of Burlington County Pain Management Service performs a variety of procedures to improve patients' conditions. Call 1-888-LOURDES (568-7337) to make an appointment.