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What Is Sciatica?

Sciatica refers to back pain caused by a problem with the sciatic nerve. This is a large nerve that runs from the lower back down the back of each leg. When something injures or puts pressure on the sciatic nerve, it can cause pain in the lower back that spreads to the hip, buttocks, and leg. Up to 90% of people recover from sciatica without surgery.

What Are the Symptoms of Sciatica?

Common symptoms of sciatica include:

  • Pain in the rear or leg that is worse when sitting
  • Burning or tingling down the leg
  • Weakness, numbness, or difficulty moving the leg or foot
  • A constant pain on one side of the rear
  • A shooting pain that makes it difficult to stand up

Sciatica usually affects only one side of the lower body. Often, the pain extends from the lower back all the way through the back of the thigh and down through the leg. Depending on where the sciatic nerve is affected, the pain may also extend to the foot or toes.

For some people, the pain from sciatica can be severe and debilitating. For others, the sciatica pain might be infrequent and irritating, but has the potential to get worse.

Seek immediate medical attention if you have progressive lower extremity weakness, numbness in the upper thighs, and/or loss of bladder or bowel control.

What Causes Sciatica?

Sciatica is caused by irritation of the root(s) of the lower lumbar and lumbosacral spine.

Additional common causes of sciatica include:

  • Lumbar spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal in the lower back)
  • Degenerative disc disease (breakdown of discs, which act as cushions between the vertebrae)
  • Spondylolisthesis (a condition in which one vertebra slips forward over another one)
  • Pregnancy
  • Other things that may make your back pain worse include being overweight, not exercising regularly, wearing high heels, or sleeping on a mattress that is too soft.

What Are the Treatments for Sciatica and Back Pain?

Sciatica/Back pain treatment goals are pain relief and restored movement. The basic treatment for relieving acute back pain from strain or minor injury is to modify your activities. An ice pack can be helpful, as can acetaminophen (Tylenol), aspirin or another nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) to reduce pain and inflammation. Never give aspirin to a child younger than 19 as it increases the risk of Reye’s syndrome. After the inflammation subsides, applying heat can soothe muscles and connective tissue.

Physical therapy treatments with soft tissue release technique, ultrasound, acupuncture, controlled application of heat, and individually tailored exercise programs to help you regain full use of the back. Strengthening both the abdominal and back muscles (core)helps stabilize the spine. You can help prevent further back injury by learning — and doing — gentle stretching exercises and proper lifting techniques, and maintaining good posture.

According to guidelines from the American College of Physicians and the American Pain Society, patients and their doctors should consider acupuncture among treatments for back pain patients who do not get relief from standard self-care. Yoga, progressive relaxation, and cognitive-behavioral therapy are also suggested for consideration.

For most chronic back pain patients, surgery is a treatment of last resort. The decision for surgery for back pain without nerve damage should only be made after non-surgical treatment has failed and the risks and benefits of surgery have been fully discussed.

Dorval Physiotherapy and Wellness Advice for Sciatica pain

1-Always Sit Up Straight

Okay, slouching is bad for your back. But sitting up too straight and still for long periods can also be a strain on the back. If you sit a lot, try this a few times a day: Lean back in your chair with your feet on the floor and a slight curve in your back. Even better: Try standing for part of the day, while on the phone or while reading work materials.

2-Don’t Lift Heavy Objects

It’s not necessarily how much you lift, it’s how you lift. Of course you shouldn’t lift anything that might be too heavy for you. When you lift, squat close to the object with your back straight and head up. Stand, using your legs to lift the load. Do not twist or bend your body while lifting or you may hurt your back.

3-Exercise Is Bad or Good for Back Pain

Regular exercise prevents back pain. And for people suffering an acute injury resulting in lower back pain, doctors may recommend an exercise program that begins with gentle exercises and gradually increases in intensity. Once the acute pain subsides, an exercise regimen may help prevent future recurrence of back pain.

The Pilates and the all specialized forms of body work that help you learn to move in a more coordinated, flexible, and graceful manner. More research is needed to see if they can help reduce pain. Some of the postures of yoga may help; improve flexibility, strength, and sense of balance. Yoga is good for stress reduction and can help with the psychological aspects of pain.

Aquatic therapy and exercise can also improve flexibility and decrease pain for some with chronic low back problems. The unique properties of water make it an especially safe environment for exercising a sore back; it provides gentle resistance, comfort, and relaxation.

4-Firmer Mattresses Are Better

A Spanish study of people with longstanding, non-specific back pain showed that those who slept on a medium-firm mattress — rated 5.6 on a 10-point hard-to-soft scale — had less back pain and disability than those who slept on a firm mattress (2.3 on the scale) mattress. However, depending on their sleep habits and the cause of their back pain, different people may need different mattresses.

5-More Pounds, More Pain

Staying fit helps prevent back pain. Back pain is most common among people who are out of shape, especially weekend warriors who engage in vigorous activity after sitting around all week. And as you might guess, obesity stresses the back.

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