Have you wondered about the tingling or numbness that can happen when sitting for too long? If you have pain radiating from your lower spine through your hips and buttocks and down the back of one of your legs it is very possible you are suffering from sciatica. That kind of pain will get your attention, but what exactly is it? The roots leading out of the spinal cord into the lower back are called the sciatic nerve. As the largest nerve in the body, it extends from the lower back through the buttock, down the back of the leg to the ankle, feet and toes. Sciatic pain occurs when there is compression to the nerve or nerve root. You probably have heard the term “pinched nerve”. It is one thing to talk about it and another thing to experience it. Fortunately, there are prevention tips and immediate help that can alleviate the discomfort.
Common causes of sciatica are a bulging or ruptured disc, muscle impingement or bone spurs. Heavy lifting, prolonged sitting, spinal stenosis (a result of aging and arthritis), nerve related injuries (resulting in a pinched nerve), are also contributing factors. In some rare cases, pregnancy can result in a temporary condition of sciatica. The condition normally affects only one side of the body, and pain can be mild to severe. The nature of the pain varies from person to person, ranging from a mild ache or numbness, to a sharp burning sensation or unbearable discomfort.
Fortunately, most cases of sciatic nerve pain resolve on their own and with some simple self-care and lifestyle changes. The sooner it is addressed, the sooner you’ll be on the road to feeling better. If painful symptoms persist for over a week or if they get worse, you should see a medical professional right away.
Lifestyle Changes to Prevent and Relieve Sciatica
To protect the health of your back and prevent a reoccurrence of sciatica, consider some of the following lifestyle changes:
- Regularly perform low-back stretching exercises, which will keep your back limber and help relieve nerve root compression
- Exercise regularly, including activities which strengthen your core muscles and are critical for
proper alignment and posture
- Invest in an ergonomic chair designed to provide maximum comfort and upper and lower back support and to prevent common musculoskeletal injuries.
- If you work long hours in front of a computer or behind a desk, take regular stretching breaks, periodic strolls around the office, and go for a walk or workout on your lunch hour
- Learn the mechanics of proper sitting posture
- Consider a sitting/standing work station
- Sit on an angled seat wedge cushion which encourages pelvic tilt and maintains the natural curvatures of your spine.
- Practice good body mechanics, such as avoiding lifting and twisting at the same time, finding a buddy to help you lift heavy or awkward objects, keeping your back straight and your knees bent as you lift, and holding loads close to your body
Immediate Help for Sciatic Nerve Pain
The good news is that sciatic nerve pain usually goes away within 4-10 weeks without invasive treatments. Although this condition can be excruciatingly painful, by making simple lifestyle changes, you can shorten the recovery period. Find the suggestions that work for you and be careful to avoid overdoing it. Listen to your body when exercising, walking or prolonged sitting or driving to see what brings relief. To facilitate faster healing and help relieve pain, here are some ways that can provide immediate relief:
- Avoid moving and lifting heavy things or bending over to pick things
- Reduce inflammation by holding a cold ice pack on the painful area for 15-20 minutes throughout the day
- Lying down and resting can help eliminate the strain and stress
- Take a hot bath or apply a hot pack to relax muscles which might be compressing the sciatic nerve
- Deep tissue massage, acupuncture, and chiropractic treatments offer relief
- Natural treatments for sciatic include herbs and homeopathic remedies
- Learn light exercises that stretch the back and help relieve and prevent sciatica
- Physical therapy for a slipped disc will likely include muscle strengthening and relaxing exercises, as well as exercises which improve posture and flexibility
- Visit your local pharmacy for over-the-counter pain relief or for anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen, Advil, or aspirin
- In more severe cases, doctors may prescribe muscle relaxants, tri-cyclic antidepressants, or administer an epidural steroid injection to reduce inflammation and pressure on the sciatic nerve
- If symptoms persist or worsen despite treatments, surgery may be in order to relieve pressure on the nerve
Karen Burke is the President and Founder of Kare Products. Karen has over 30 years of expertise creating ergonomic furniture that helps avoid injury and promotes health for all types of discomfort and body sizes.