Top Tips For Managing Sciatica
Aches and pains which originate in the lower back and spread down the buttocks and legs into your feet can often be attributed to sciatica. The pain can range from a mild ache that comes and goes to sharp and intense pain that can be overwhelming and severely impact your day-to-day life.
At Brixton Therapy Centre sciatica is something we often see in our patients and treat with great success. We also give advice and tips on how to manage and prevent sciatica alongside the provision of sciatica treatment.
This article answers the question: what is sciatica? It also covers the symptoms and causes of sciatica as well as giving you our best tips to help manage sciatica.
What is Sciatica
The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body. It runs from the lower spine through the deep tissue in the buttocks and down the backs of the legs to the sole of the foot.
Sciatica is the term for pain felt anywhere along the sciatic nerve and is often caused by problems in the lower lumbar region which result in the pinching or trapping of the nerve leading to a range of symptoms.
Symptoms of sciatica are often felt on one side. They can be unusual such as a feeling of warmth, like water running down your leg. They can be mild to moderate; aches, pains, tingling/pins and needles, tight muscles especially in the glutes/buttocks and feeling of weakness in the leg. These symptoms can come and go.
The symptoms of sciatica can also be severe; debilitating pain and a feeling of paralysis, even loss of bladder or bowel control. Symptoms that are as severe as that warrant medical attention immediately to rule out anything more sinister.
Even with mild to moderate symptoms and pain you should consider a visit to your GP if your symptoms continue for more than 6-8 weeks and/or are unresponsive to home remedies or treatments such as massage and osteopathy. Your osteopath will refer you when necessary.
Summary of Sciatica Symptoms:
Pins and needles in one leg or foot or the buttock.
Shooting pains down one leg.
Burning sensation in one leg.
Weakness in one leg that may come on suddenly, especially as a result of a jarring motion, a misstep or a sneeze for example.
Numbness in your buttock/s, leg/s, or feet.
Pain that comes and goes.
Noticeably worse symptoms upon waking or after sitting, standing still or being sedentary for long periods including driving.
In extreme cases, bladder or bowel control issues accompany sciatica in which case medical attention should be sought as soon as possible.
Causes of Sciatica
Something pushing against, rubbing, or pressing on the sciatic nerve causes sciatica.
Most commonly it is when one of the areas of soft tissue between your vertebrae (your disc) is forced out of position and starts to put pressure on the nerve.. This is called a ‘slipped disc’; a prolapsed or herniated disc.
Sciatica could also be caused by a back injury such as a fall or a sudden unexpected jarring movement most likely due to resultant bruising and inflammation or causing a slipped disc, as mentioned above.
A common way people injure their backs in this way is by lifting heavy things incorrectly i.e. taking the strain on their backs by bending at the waist rather than bending their knees and holding the item close to the body. A ‘slipped disc’ is a common injury that can be caused by training too hard, or by poor lifting technique and can be common in older people, and people who live a more sedate lifestyle.
Another possible cause could be a bone spur; this is an overgrowth of bone which can push upon the nerve. Less common causes of sciatica include the narrowing of the spine which can squeeze the sciatic nerve. Also, spondylolisthesis, which is the vertebrae themselves slipping out of position. The least common cause is when a tumour or other growth such as a cyst presses on the sciatic nerve. But this is rare.
Best Tips for Managing Sciatica
Sciatica may go away on its own within a few weeks but if it recurs we advise getting your spinal alignment and posture checked out. There may be an underlying or ongoing issue that is causing it.
However, the condition and the pain it causes can be managed to help you to get on with normal life. Some of the most effective treatments include:
This is something you can do for yourself. First a knee-to-chest stretch: try laying on your back and slowly bringing your knee up to your chest. Then try the same but bring your knee across your body more as if you are trying to touch your opposite shoulder with your knee.
Another excellent stretch for sciatica is what is known in Yoga as the ‘Pigeon pose’. To do this stretch, which is excellent for opening the hips and stretching your lower back, begin by getting on all fours. Then bring your knee forward towards the opposite hand. Slide the other leg behind you with the heel and the sole of your foot facing up towards the ceiling. Then slowly ease yourself forward hands first as far as you can comfortably go. Hold for a few breaths then lift onto your hand and return to all fours before repeating with the opposite leg.
Swimming is an excellent exercise for sciatica as the buoyancy helps relieve the pressure on the sciatic nerve which higher impact exercises even brisk walking can sometimes aggravate.
Exercise releases pain-relieving and feel-good hormones which will help you to feel better when suffering from sciatic pain. The mobilisation and stretching of the affected areas can ease pressure on the sciatic nerve. This will be the case certainly while doing the activity but it can aid longer-term healing as well.
Get Plenty of Sleep
When we sleep our brains produce hormones that encourage tissue growth and repair. There is increased blood flow which gives muscles and cells the nutrients and oxygen they need to regenerate, recover and repair.
Drinking plenty of water helps your body to move those natural healers: oxygen and nutrients around your body including to areas of injury.
Ice is very effective at soothing inflammation and so can help with the intense pains that are sometimes a symptom of sciatica. Hold an icepack (wrapped in a tea towel) on the affected area for 20-30 minutes and repeat 3 x daily until the inflammation has subsided..
Heat packs help by increasing blood flow to the area which helps speed up the body’s natural healing processes. Follow heat with a few minutes of cold.
Osteopathy is a particularly good treatment for sciatica. First of all your osteopath will be able to ascertain whether it is sciatica that is causing your pain and if so, what is causing the sciatica. Once your diagnosis has been made your osteopath will begin treatment including massage of the soft tissues in your lower back, gluteal muscles, and thighs to help release pressure from the sciatic nerve and relax tight muscles. Massage will also boost circulation to promote the body’s natural healing processes. Mobilisation and manipulation including traction; the gentle holding and pulling of your feet and legs to relieve pressure help to relieve the immediate pains and realign the problem areas. It also includes counterstrain techniques which allow the restricted and painful areas to relax and release the muscles which have been overworking as a result of the trapped or pinched sciatic nerve. It may also involve muscle energy techniques to increase the range of motion in the lower spinal region and stretch the affected muscles.
Osteopathy treatment will also help you relax and sleep better which will help your body to heal faster.
Cranial Osteopathy Treatment
For those who are pregnant, elderly or who are recovering from injury cranial osteopathy is a gentler alternative treatment for sciatica and can also be of benefit for sciatic pain when used alongside general osteopathic treatments. Any osteopath offering cranial osteopathy will also be a fully trained and registered osteopath who can offer the full range of techniques. Osteopathy is a legally protected title so if someone calls themselves an osteopath you can be reassured that they trained to a minimum of 4 years and are registered with the General Osteopathic Council.
For more information on how our professional, friendly team at Brixton Therapy Centre can help you with sciatica or other conditions, injury and pain get in touch or book an initial consultation so we can help you to feel better as quickly as possible.