Sciatica Pain Causes, Symptoms, Risk Factors, Treatments, Exercises and Home Remedies

Sciatica pain

Sciatica nerve pain is caused by a number of different things. Sciatica is a term that is often confused with general back pain. The main thing is that makes is different, is that sciatica is not just limited to the back.

The sciatic nerve is the longest and widest nerve in your body. Sciatica symptoms and treatment are usually numbness or tingling in the leg along the nerve.

The pain can vary from mild to severe and depends on the condition.

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What is Sciatica?

Sciatica pain

This is a word that is tossed around the medical community, but many of you may be wondering, what is Sciatica? Sciatica is a term given to pain felt along the sciatic nerve.

This nerve is the longest and widest within the human body. Sciatica is not a condition; it is a symptom. The sciatic nerve is responsible for controlling several muscles in the lower legs.

It also supplies sensation to the skin, foot and the majority of the lower leg. Some experts estimate that up to 40 percent of people will experience sciatica at least once in their life.

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 Symptoms of Sciatica Nerve Pain

Sciatica pain symptomsThe symptoms that are associated with sciatic nerve pain can vary based on the severity of your condition.

If you are experiencing severe sciatic nerve pain you should consult with your doctor.

Below are some of the symptoms that you may experience with sciatica.

  • Pain that radiates from your lower spine to your buttock and down the back of your leg
  • Discomfort anywhere along the nerve pathway
  • Burning sensation
  • Excruciating pain
  • Numbness
  • Tingling sensation
  • Muscle weakness
  • Constant pain in only one side of the buttock or leg
  • Pain typically described as sharp or searing, rather than dull
  • Severe or shooting pain in one leg, making it difficult to stand up or walk

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Causes of Sciatica Pain

Sciatica pain is a common symptom of several different medical conditions.

Nearly all of the cases of sciatica pain can be traced back to a herniated disk in the lower back. Your spinal column is made up of three different parts: vertebra, nerves, and disks.

What causes sciatica pain

The disks are made of cartilage but can be injured. A herniated disk occurs when a disk is pushed out of place, putting pressure on the sciatic nerve.

There are many other causes of sciatica pain, some of which are listed here.

  • Lumbar spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal cord and lower back.
  • Spondylolisthesis is a condition where a disk slips forward over the vertebra below it.
  • Tumors within the spine may compress the root of the sciatic nerve. An infection can damage and ultimately affect the spine. If you have suffered a severe back injury you may experience sciatica pain.
  • Cauda equine syndrome is a rare but serious condition the affects the nerves in the lower part of the spinal cord.

If you are diagnosed with this condition you must seek immediate medical attention to reduce the risk of further injury and damage.

Unfortunately, for most cases of sciatica pain, there is no single or obvious diagnosis.

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Sciatica Pain Risk Factors & Complications

There are several different things that can put you at risk for sciatica pain. One of the most unavoidable is age.

Age-related changes in the spine, such as herniated disks and bone spurs, are the most common causes of sciatica.

Obesity is also a factor. When you gain a lot of weight, this increases the pressure on your spine. Excess pressure can contribute to the spinal changes that trigger sciatica pain.

Your occupation can also be considered a risk factor for sciatica. Any job that requires you to twist your back, carry heavy loads, or drive a motor vehicle for long periods might cause the pain.

There, unfortunately, is no conclusive evidence of this link. Leaving sciatica unchecked can result in complications. Most people will fully recover from sciatica.

But if you experience any of the following, you should seek medical attention immediately: loss of feeling in the affected leg, weakness in the affected leg, loss of bowel or bladder function.

Sciatica Pain Treatment Options

With sciatica pain being such a common thing, there are plenty of treatments available. Sciatica symptoms and treatment can be done with your doctor.

These will be very effective and able to be properly diagnosed to receive the best sciatica relief. Listed below are options for sciatica pain treatment.

Sciatica treatments

1. Medication

The types of medications that might be prescribed for sciatica pain include anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants, narcotics, tricyclic antidepressants, anti-seizure medications.

These will reduce the pain and numbness experienced with sciatica.

2. Physical Therapy

Physical Therapy

Once the acute pain improves, you may be assigned a rehabilitation program. This will help prevent future injuries.

This typically includes sciatica pain relief exercises to correct your posture, strengthen the muscles supporting your back. It may also improve your flexibility as well.

3. Steroid Injections

In certain cases, your doctor might prescribe you with an injection of a corticosteroid medication. This injection will be made in the area around the involved nerve root.

Corticosteroids will help reduce the pain by suppressing inflammation around the irritated nerve. The effects usually wear off in a few months.

You cannot receive too many of these shots due to the risk of serious steroid-related side effects. The risk of these side effects increases when injections occur too frequently.

4. Surgery

This is usually for when the nerve causes significant weakness, loss of bowel or bladder control, or when the pain does not improve through other methods.

Surgeons can remove the bone spur or the herniated disk that is pressing on the pinched nerve. Doctors will generally try and avoid surgery if possible due to a long recovery time.

Sciatica Pain Home Remedies

Fortunately, there is sciatica pain treatment that can be done from your home. If your pain does not decrease from any of these home remedies it is important that you seek a doctor.

If the pain increases, you may have a more severe case than originally thought. Listed below are some home remedies for sciatica treatment.

1. Discontinue Gym Workouts

Exercise is a good thing, but not ones that cause more severe issues. Some exercises will put your sciatic nerve under more stress than usual.

Most gym equipment will restrict the natural moving patterns of your body. Substitute gym workouts with natural activities like walking, running and swimming. 

2. Do Stretching Exercises

Do Stretching Exercises

Stretching can actually resolve some sciatic nerve issues. Gentle stretching can relieve the stress on the piriformis muscle and the hamstring.

This will result in sciatica relief. It has been found that almost 80% of sciatica cases are from piriformis syndrome. 

3. Practice Yoga

Practice Yoga

Yoga is associated with stretching and a holistic system of medicine. It will help increase flexibility and correct faulty postures that cause spinal problems.

There are several poses that are recommended for sciatica pain relief exercises. 

4. Use a Natural Pain Reliever

Devil’s claw is highly recommended for treatment for sciatica pain in the buttock.

The iridoid glycosides in this herbal extract, especially harpagoside, have a strong anti-inflammatory effect. Ginger tea and turmeric milk are also excellent anti-inflammatory agents.

5. Get a Deep Massage

Get a Deep Massage

A deep massage can be an excellent sciatica treatment option.

The massage will trace the pathway of the nerve itself and massage in the blood flow. This is only a temporary fix and will not resolve the problem altogether.

You want to look for a qualified masseuse who knows the proper technique.

Sciatica Exercises for Quick Pain Relief

There are some exercises that will provide fast and easy relief for your sciatica pain. They can be done at home and in a short amount of time.

They are simple enough that you do not have to be a professional yogi to do them. Listed below are some of these exercises.

1. Reclining Pigeon Pose

Reclining Pigeon Pose

Pigeon pose is a common yoga pose. It works to open the hips. There are many versions of this pose. The first is a reclining pigeon pose.

While on your back bring your right leg up to a right angle. Clasp both hands behind the thigh. Lift your left leg and place your right ankle on top of the left knee. Hold for a moment. Then release and repeat with the other leg.

2. Sitting Pigeon Pose

Sitting Pigeon Pose

This is the same as the reclining pigeon pose but done while sitting. Bend your right leg, putting your ankle on top of the left knee.

Lean forward and allow your upper body to reach toward your thigh. Hold for 15 seconds and repeat with the other leg.

3. Forward Pigeon Pose

Kneel on the floor on all fours. Pick up your right leg and move it forward on the ground in front of your body.

Stretch the left leg out all the way behind you on the floor, with the top of the foot on the ground and toes pointing back.

Shift your body weight gradually from your arms to your legs so that your legs are supporting your weight. Take a deep breath and release.

4. Knee to Opposite Shoulder

Knee to Opposite Shoulder

Lie on your back with your legs extended and your feet flexed upward. Bend your right leg and clasp your hands around the knee.

Gently pull your right leg across your body left shoulder. Hold it for 30 seconds. Remember to pull your knee only as far as it will comfortably go.

5. Sitting Spinal Stretch

Sitting Spinal Stretch

Sit on the ground with your legs extended straight out with your feet flexed upward. Bend your right knee and place your foot flat on the floor.

Place your left elbow on the outside of your right knee to help you gently turn your body to the right. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat three times, then switch sides.

When to See a Doctor

Mild sciatica usually will go away over time. Contact your doctor when:

  • The home remedies do not change the symptoms you experience, call your doctor
  • Symptoms increase over time then you may be worsening the original problem.
  • You experience sudden or sever pain in your lower back or leg.

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Dr. David Cummings, MD

David Cummings, MD, is a medical reviewer and editor at Daily Health Cures. David received his medical degree from the University of Illinois.