Many people claim to suffer from sciatica but what is sciatica?
Put simply, sciatica is a pain, usually in the back of the leg caused by compression, irritation, or inflammation of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerves are the longest and largest nerves in the body, running down the back of each leg and are about the diameter of your thumb.
The sciatic nerve is actually composed of four or five smaller nerves that leave the spinal cord from the lower spinal column, join together and then travel down each leg. It then divides into numerous smaller nerves that travel to the thigh, knee, calf, ankle, foot and toes. When these nerves are irritated or affected by the inflammation of nearby soft tissues, then this is referred to as sciatica.
There are several reasons why the sciatic nerve could become compressed, entrapped, or irritated. In “true” sciatica, the nerve roots can be compressed by herniated, degenerated or displaced lumbar spinal disc(s). This can be exacerbated by tight muscles and soft tissues in the lower back, buttocks or leg.
There are also other conditions which can mimic sciatic symptoms such as Piriformis Syndrome where the sciatic nerve is entrapped by the piriformis muscle in the buttocks. Piriformis Syndrome is sometime referred to as “back pocket sciatica” as pressure on the piriformis muscle and sciatic nerve can be caused by sitting on a wallet in the back pocket of a person’s pants. Another problem that can imitate sciatic pain is trigger points in the Gluteus Minimus muscle. The trigger points in this muscle can refer pain sensations down the back of the leg along the path of the sciatic nerve and also on the outside of the leg.
People with sciatica suffer from a wide range of symptoms. The pain may come and go at different times, it may be a constant problem and then it may subside for hours or days for no apparent reason. Some people may feel only a dull ache travelling down the back into the upper leg. For others, it may be intense sharp shooting pains all the way down the leg into the foot and toes.
Many factors can influence the pain of sciatica. If the sufferer sits in one position for long periods of time then the pain can increase. Long distance drivers and computer operators are particularly susceptible. Exercising, or even simple things like walking, bending, twisting or standing up may be difficult and painful. For some, the pain may change from side to side or be present in both legs. For others, back pain may appear before the sciatica emerges. In some severe cases, sciatica can impair reflexes, or result in the wasting of the calf muscles.
Treatments for Sciatica
The medical approach to dealing with sciatica is to treat the symptoms. This may include using painkillers, muscle relaxers or anti-inflammatory drugs such as NSAIDs . Traction, physical therapy or injections directly into the nerve roots may also be used. In severe cases, Surgery (such as microdiscectomy or lumbar laminectomy) is used to help relieve both pressure and inflammation.
Massage Therapy and Bodywork can help Sciatica, Sciatic Nerve Pain, in particular the conditions which mimic sciatica such as Piriformis Sydrome. Massage therapy can relaxes muscles, releases trigger points and abnormal tissue adhesions, and improve posture to relieve the pressure on nerve roots and other sensitive structures.
Other Manual treatments (including physical therapy, osteopathic, or chiropractic treatments) can help relieve the pressure. Chiropractic and Osteopathic techniques are often used in conjunction with treatment by a Massage Therapist.
Use a Tennis Ball
The knots in the muscles of the hip and buttock can be effectively treated with a tennis ball. Simply lie on a tennis ball such that it presses on deep, sore points and just wait for the feeling to fade. However please be aware that the piriformis muscle is so unusually reactive and the use of a tennis ball to massage the piriformis needs to be gentle and conservative.
Jump in the Spa to Relax the Area with Heat
Whether the pain is caused by the crushed sciatic nerve itself, or just by tight muscles, the muscles need to relax. Hot tubs, with jets, are ideal for sciatica.
Check Your Posture
The types of sciatica that are related by excessive sitting may be influenced by the ergonomic design of work station and/or chair. It may be worth experimenting with your chair and the layout of your work station. A simple option is to use a timer to remind yourself to get our of your chair at regular intervals such as every fifteen-twenty minutes.