Running from your spinal cord to your buttock and hip area and down the back of your leg, the sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in your body. It controls muscles behind your knee and in your lower leg and provides feeling to the back of your thigh, part of your lower leg and the sole of your foot.
It only stands to reason then that if the sciatic nerve is compressed or pressured – a condition called “sciatica” – the result frequently is pain, weakness, numbness or tingling down your leg. Depending upon the cause of sciatica, it frequently goes away on its own in four to eight weeks.
Some self-care measures you may want to try include a few days of bed rest, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as aspirin or ibuprofen), heat or cold on painful muscles and stretching.
If those measures don’t work or if your pain lasts more than four weeks, call you doctor. Call your doctor immediately if:
You have sudden, severe pain in your lower back or leg or numbness or weakness in your leg.
The pain follows an injury, such as a car accident.
You lose control of your bladder or bowels.
In addition to a physical exam, your doctor is likely to use tests to rule out causes of your discomfort. Those include a spinal X-ray, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scanning.
Although in many cases no cause is found for sciatica, a frequent cause is a herniated disk in your lower back. A disk is the gel-like substance that forms pads between the bones in your back. As we age, disks may start to deteriorate and the substance presses on the root that becomes the sciatic nerve. Other potential causes of sciatica are spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal which may put pressure on nerve roots), spinal or sciatic nerve tumors, injury to the lower back or nerve roots, or a number of other problems affecting bones, joints or muscles.
Depending upon your diagnosis, your doctor may recommend physical therapy or prescription medicines. If those treatments are unsuccessful, your doctor may inject a corticosteroid medicine into the affected area. Usually, surgery is used only for patients who have significant weakness, have lost control of their bladder or bowels or whose pain gets worse. Surgery may include removing part of a disk that’s pressing on a nerve.
Most of us experience wear and tear of the spine as we age, and sciatica is most likely to occur between age 30 and 50. Other risk factors include jobs that require twisting or carrying heavy loads, living an inactive lifestyle and sitting for long periods, or having diabetes, which can damage nerves.
Steps you can take that may help prevent sciatica include exercising to strengthen your abdominal and lower back muscles, maintaining good posture when sitting and taking frequent breaks to walk around, and using good body mechanics when lifting heavy objects.
To find a physician near you to help address your back pain, call us today at 800-681-2733.