What is the sciatic nerve?
The sciatic nerve is the longest and widest nerve in the body. The nerve comes out of the spinal column, goes through the lower back, into the buttocks and then all the way down the leg and foot. It primarily supplies the muscles of the lower leg, foot and knee. It allows this area to both feel and move.
What is sciatica?
Sciatica itself is more of a symptom than a diagnosis. It can be a sign of an underlying condition such as a lumbar herniated disc, spinal stenosis or degenerative disc disease.
Sciatica will usually present itself as constant pain in one side of the buttock. The pain can travel down one leg and can cause weakness and lack of mobility in the leg. The pain is not as sharp as other types of back pain, it tends to be more tingly, burning or searing.
Whilst it’s rare that the sciatic nerve can become permanently damaged, sciatica can be debilitating. Sciatica can be relieved by movement and walking around, it tends to get worse when you have to sit for prolonged periods. As you can imagine, sciatica is a big nuisance for office workers who have to sit down all day.
Sciatica can be a problem that comes and goes, or it can be enduring. Most people find that their sciatica goes away after a few weeks, occasionally it can last for much longer. If you are experiencing sciatica that lasts longer than six weeks, then it’s time to get professional help.
How can I prevent sciatica?
- Use proper lifting techniques. If you have a manual job, then it is essential you correctly lift heavy objects. Improper lifting can cause damage to your spine, triggering sciatic symptoms.
- Maintain good posture. When standing your back should be straight and your weight evenly distributed on both feet. When sitting make sure that the small of your back is supported and your feet are flat on the floor. If you use a keyboard, your forearms should be horizontal.
- Sleep comfortably. Your mattress should be firm, yet soft enough to support your buttocks and shoulders. Chose a pillow that supports your head but isn’t propping your head up at an angle.
- Exercise regularly. Regular exercise will help keep your back strong and slow down age related deterioration of the discs in your spine. Walking and swimming are perfect exercises for strengthening the back.
- Avoid sitting for long periods. Take regular breaks from your desk.
- Do stretching exercises. You can stretch your back by sitting in a chair and bending forward towards the floor, stop when you feel discomfort, come back up and repeat.
- Nourish your tendons, ligaments and muscles. We’ve outlined how to keep healthy joints in our blog ‘How to Maintain Optimum Joint Health’.
- Avoid high heels. Heels that are higher than an inch and a half shift your weight forwards, throwing your spine out of alignment.
How can I ease the symptoms of sciatica?
- Ice or heat. Apply an ice or heat pack to the buttocks area for 10-15 minutes periodically.
- Painkillers. NSAID’s (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and over the counter painkillers may relieve some symptoms. GP’s may prescribe muscle relaxants for sciatica.
- Acupuncture. Acupuncture is used for pain relief and to promote healing. A study by the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine found that out of 30 sciatica sufferers, 17 got complete relief and 10 saw symptoms improve with acupuncture.
- Massage. Applying pressure to inflamed and tight muscle areas behind the glutes can stop the sciatic muscle from being pinched.
What if my pain doesn’t go away?
Surgery has traditionally been an option for prolonged sciatica. During surgery a small portion of the tissue that is trapping the sciatic nerve will be removed.
However, surgery is an invasive and painful procedure. You will need to take your recovery time into account. New advances in physiotherapy can offer alternative solutions.
IDD therapy delivers precise treatment, the physiotherapist uses a computer to control movements. Using an accu-SPINA device the therapist can gradually distract (pull apart) targeted areas of the spine. This takes the pressure off specific discs and nerves and at the same time gradually stretches stiff ligaments and muscles.
PAMM therapy has been used at our clinic to successfully treat sciatica. In PAMM (power assisted micro manipulation) therapy the physiotherapist uses a handset that allows them to manipulate the spine with the aim to restore mobility to stiffened areas and re-align any rotations or tilted segments. The handset enables the therapist to achieve what cannot be done by hand alone.