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Sciatica

Sciatica is a pain that results when your sciatic nerve is compressed or irritated. Sciatic pain normally radiates along your sciatic nerve which runs from your lower back to your feet. The pain can be severe, usually affects only one side of your body, and often gets better in four to six weeks but it can last longer.

What are the symptoms of sciatica?

Symptoms of sciatica typically affect your lower back, bottom, back of leg, foot and toes. You may feel:
  • a shooting and burning pain that radiates from your lower spine and down the back of your leg including your thighs, calf and toes
  • pain on only one side of your body
  • tingling, numbness and muscle weakness in your affected leg or foot
  • worsening pain when you move, sneeze, cough or sit for prolonged periods of time
  • some back pain that is less than the pain in your bottom, leg or foot.

What causes sciatica?

Sciatica is pain triggered by pressing or irritating your sciatic nerve. The most common cause of sciatica is a slipped disc when the soft disc cushion between the bones in your spine is pushed out of place. This slipped disc then presses on your sciatic nerve and causes sciatica pain. Sciatica can also happen due to bone spurs, spinal stenosis when part of your spine narrows where the nerves pass through, degenerative conditions including ankylosing spondylitis and spondylolisthesis and back injuries.

Pain solutions for sciatica at home

There are a variety of home remedies you can try for sciatica pain relief. These include:

  • Cold packs – initially placing a cold pack, such as an ice pack or a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a towel, on your painful area for up to 20 minutes several times a day may provide you with some relief from your sciatica pain.
  • Hot packs – apply hot packs or pads to your painful area on day two or three. You can alternate between hot and cold packs.
  • Stretching exercises - for your low back, can take the pressure off your sciatic nerve and help you feel better.
  • Over-the-counter medications - such as ibuprofen can relieve your inflammatory pain whilst your body heals.

Sciatica treatment

If your pain doesn't improve with time and self-care measures such as exercise, stretching and over the counter pain relief, your doctor may suggest a sciatica treatment. Sciatica treatments include:

  • Medications – you may be prescribed anti-inflammatory, muscle relaxant, narcotic, antidepressants or anti-seizure drugs for sciatica pain relief.
  • Physiotherapy – aims to reduce nerve pressure and ease muscular tension in your lower spine, buttock and leg. Physiotherapy for sciatica includes exercise advice on stretching tight muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments, and how to minimise pressure and irritation of the sciatic nerve, as well as massage therapy. Physiotherapy also focuses on exercises to correct your posture and strengthen the muscles that support your back.
  • Pain management – psychological support to help you cope with sciatica pain.
  • Painkilling injections – a corticosteroid injection into the area near your compressed spinal nerve roots may be recommended. Steroids reduce inflammation and may help ease sciatic pain. The injections are performed on an outpatient basis and can start working within a few hours to a few days. The pain relief can last for weeks, months or longer.
  • Surgery – may be required if your compressed nerve causes significant weakness, loss of bowel or bladder control, or when your pain worsens or does not improve with other sciatica treatments. During surgery, the portion of a herniated disk or bone spur that is pressing on your sciatic nerve is removed to relieve nerve pressure and pain. This can be performed by open surgery known as lumbar discectomy or more often by the minimally invasive day surgery called a microdiscectomy.
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