What Is Sciatica?
Sciatica is a condition where you feel sharp shooting pain, burning pain or numbness down your butt, back of your thigh, back of your leg or foot. Usually, sciatica symptoms are only on one leg or one foot. But it’s possible to have symptoms of sciatica on both legs or feet.
For some people, their sciatica pain comes and goes. If you pay close attention, you’ll notice that your leg pain, foot numbness or leg numbness is worse than the last episode.
Read on to discover important information you should know about sciatica and how you can prevent your sciatica from becoming permanent and debilitating.
Your sciatic nerve is made up of five smaller nerves called L4, L5, S1, S2, S3. These smaller spinal nerve roots arise from your spine and join to form one large nerve called the sciatic nerve. Your sciatic nerve goes from your lower back through your buttock and down the back of your legs. Parts of your sciatic nerve then branch out to go to your thigh, calf, foot and toes.
About the size of your pinky, your sciatic nerve is the largest and longest nerve in your body. It’s responsible for most of the muscles and skin in your lower legs and feet.
Sciatic Nerve Pain
Sciatic nerve pain is the result of your sciatic nerve being pinched anywhere along its path. The intensity of your sciatic nerve pain may vary from irritating to debilitating. Your may feel constant sciatic nerve pain or it may come and go.
You may have noticed that your sciatic nerve pain usually gets worse when you sit. Most patients with sciatica describe their sciatic nerve pain as burning or tingling and not as a dull achy type of pain. If your sciatica is severe, you may have trouble standing up or walking. You may also struggle with finding a comfortable sitting or sleeping position.
Besides sciatic nerve pain, there are other sciatica symptoms that you may also feel. For example, you may also have lower back pain, since the sciatic nerve roots can be pinched at your lower back area where your sciatica nerve starts to form.
Also, if your sciatica does not get treated properly, or soon enough, your sciatic leg pain may later be accompanied by or replaced by weakness of your affected leg muscles. This causes a condition called foot drop. Have you ever seen people dragging one foot when they walk? They might have sciatica that didn’t get treated properly or early enough.
If your sciatic nerve is compressed hard enough and long enough, muscle weakness can occur making it hard to stand up on your tip toes. This can create a limp when walking. Look at the back of your legs. Is one of your calves smaller than the other?
There are four common causes of sciatica. First, is lumbar disc herniation, which is also known as ruptured disc. Second, is a misaligned vertebra such as a forward slip of the vertebra called spondylolisthesis. Third is pressure from an arthritic bone spur off the spine where the sciatic nerve root exits. This is also called spinal stenosis. The fourth cause is a tumor near or around the sciatic nerve.
There are also other conditions that can cause “sciatica-like” symptoms. These are technically not sciatica, but the symptoms are the same.
These conditions include, an irritated piriformis muscle, referred pain from the facet joints, sacroiliac joint dysfunction, a metabolic condition where the sciatic nerve is affected such as diabetes and other conditions. Also, direct trauma to the buttocks like from falling or from hitting the sciatic nerve during an injection into the buttocks can cause sciatica symptoms.
Perhaps the most common cause of sciatica is a lumbar disc herniation or lumbar disc bulge as shown above.
Sciatica stretches work especially well when the cause of your sciatica symptoms is from a tight or spastic Piriformis muscle. Be careful with the following sciatica stretches. If you feel sharp in your low back, or anywhere, while doing any of these sciatica exercises, stop immediately. Sciatica can be relieved by sciatica exercises. But, if you’re getting sharp pain with any of the exercises below, you may have a serious condition that needs expert help. If you’d like our help, Call Us (831) 475-8600.
As a general rule, if your sciatica is caused by a herniated disc or by a bulging disc, don’t do the sciatica stretches that require you to bend your torso forward. Also, don’t do the exercises that require you to bend your leg up.
If your sciatica is caused by referred pain from an irritated low back spinal facet joint or spinal arthritis, don’t do the exercises that require you to bend your torso backward.
Usually, when you do the exercises that are harmful for your specific condition, you’ll notice that your sciatica leg pain, numbness or tingling will feel worse. It’s best to consult a sciatica expert who can help you determine the cause of your sciatica before you do any of these sciatica exercises.
Sciatica Stretch #1: Contract Your Abdomen
In this sciatica stretch, tighten your abdomen by moving your belly button closer to your back.You can also tighten your abdomen while sitting or while standing. This means that you can do this exercise while you wait in line at stores or while you’re waiting for someone. You can also do this lying in bed, sitting in your car, or sitting at your desk.
Doing this simple exercise, often, can help strengthen your abdominal muscles, which can help relieve your sciatica. For you, this can be safer and more effective than crunches or sit-ups.
Sciatica Stretch #2: Move Your Knee Toward Your Chest With Your Leg Bent
For this second sciatica stretch, first, bend one leg, bring it close to your chest, then bring your leg back down. You can use your hands to help keep your knees bent, but don’t use your hands to help you stretch farther. You may overstretch and injure yourself. Don’t overdo this stretch. Also, don’t hold your leg in the bent position too long.
Sciatica Exercise #3: Stretch your Piriformis (Method 1)
Sciatica Exercise #3: Stretch your Piriformis (Method 2)
If your sciatica symptoms are caused by tight or irritated Piriformis muscle, also known as Piriformis Syndrome, stretching your Piriformis can bring sciatica pain relief. You can choose which Piriformis stretching exercise works best for you, or you can do both methods.
For the first Piriformis stretch, put one leg over the opposite knee, then bend both legs . You can either wrap your hands around your top or bottom leg. Repeat on the other leg.
For the second Piriformis stretch, lie on your side, opposite the side with sciatica. With your leg that’s on top, bend your knee and hip up toward your chest. Don’t overstretch. Lay your bent leg on the floor. Be sure to keep both of your shoulders touching the ground.
If possible, try non-surgical sciatica treatments first before getting back surgery. So what are your non-surgical sciatica treatment options? Here are the advice and treatment options that we give to many of our sciatica patients.
Before you follow our suggestions below, be sure to consult with your doctor who is familiar with your medical history and current condition and get their okay.
If you have sciatica, and you carry your wallet or cell phone in the back pocket of your pants, stop doing this. Carrying your cell phone or wallet in the back pocket of your pants can irritate your Piriformis muscle, which is right next to your sciatic nerve.
This may be causing your sciatica symptoms, especially if your sciatica is on the same side where you carry your wallet or cell phone. This condition is knows as Piriformis Syndrome.
Another thing you should avoid is assuming the worst position for your back. Remember that your sciatic nerve roots start in your low back? Well there’s a certain back position that can pinch or irritate these sciatic nerve roots.
Above is the back position to avoid: bending over, while twisting your back, while reaching for an object, while lifting or pulling that object. You may even hear a popping sound if you do this, followed by sharp pain in your low back or sharp shooting pain down your leg. This can cause a herniated or bulged disc, resulting in a pinched nerve.
There are other low back and leg positions that you should avoid. Your body will tell you which ones. How? These damaging positions will cause sharp pain in your low back or down your leg.
What about moving your back in different positions to loosen up your back? If done correctly, it’s good to stretch and loosen up your back. But, don’t move your back in the directions that cause sharp pain.
Sitting And Back Pain
You should also avoid sitting too long. The chronic habit of sitting too long puts a lot of pressure on your low back discs and dehydrates them. This causes degenerative disc disease, which can lead to bulging discs and herniated discs. Both can cause sciatica.
Also, sitting too long can irritate your Piriformis muscles. Remember that irritated Piriformis muscles can lead to an irritated sciatic nerve, which can lead to sciatica.
If you have to sit for long periods because of your work, there is one simple gadget that you can buy to take some load off your low back discs while you sit. This gadget will also help you maintain a proper posture while you sit. What is this gadget? It’s a backrest.
Backrest For Sciatica Relief
Not all backrests are the same. Get a backrest that helps you keep proper posture while sitting down. Your low back discs will thank you. The backrest that we recommend to our patients allows you to customize the low back tension in the backrest based on your preference and comfort.
Many of our patients who bought this backrest keep it on their desk chair, because that’s where they sit most . If you’d like to try this backrest, just come by our clinic during our office hours. We’re at 2959 Park Ave., Suite F in Soquel and we’re open Mon, Tues, Wed and Thurs from 9-12 and 2-6.
Walking To Relieve Sciatica
If you’re like most people with sciatica, you’re probably not walking too much. Squeeze in more walking time during your daily life to help relieve sciatica. Walking will enhance your circulation, which will help you heal. Walking will also keep your joints and muscles moving, which is a good thing. Remember not to go beyond your pain tolerance. Also, don’t go beyond your fitness tolerance.
If your sciatica is severe, you may have to start walking on flatter and softer surfaces. If walking makes your sciatica pain unbearable, you should talk to your doctor about other things that you can do to keep your lower back and legs moving.
Hydration For Sciatica
To heal and recover from sciatica, be sure to stay hydrated. Divide your weight in half and the number you get is the amount of fluids in ounces (oz) that you should be drinking throughout the day. For example, if you weigh 160 lbs., divide 160 by 2. This gives you 80. You should drink about 80 ounces of water a day.
If you’re more active during the day, you may need more water that day. Also, if the weather is hot, you may need more water. Making sure you get enough fluids will help you recover from sciatica.
This is especially important for people with dehydrated spinal discs, which is often the case in people who suffer from sciatica. Water also helps flush inflammatory byproducts out of your system. Just make sure you’re drinking good quality fluids and not the kind that dehydrate you such as coffee, alcohol or sodas.
Ice Therapy For Sciatica
Our next suggestion for sciatica pain relief is to ice your low back, since most sciatica results from irritated sciatic nerve roots in the low back. Ice is an anti-inflammatory agent. This means that it reduces inflammation or swelling. Ice also reduces congestion or pushes out of the injured area painful chemicals and fluids that build up when there’s inflammation.
When using ice, instead of using ice cubes, it’s better to use the moldable ice packs with the gel-like material inside. If you live close to our clinic, you can come by and buy an ice pack from us.
Ice usually feels good, once the part that you’re icing is numb. But because ice is cold, it may not feel good in the beginning.
Heat Therapy For Sciatica
Heat does the opposite of ice. Heat pulls fluids into an area. Unlike ice, heat feels good initially. But, often, people who use heat on their low back say that it later made their sciatica worse. This is because the additional fluid build-up in an already inflamed or injured area is kind of like throwing gasoline on a fire.
For some of our sciatica patients, the combination of heat and ice works wonders. However, these patients must follow specific instructions on exactly how to do this.
If your sciatica is caused by a spastic, tight or irritated Piriformis muscle, ice the affected Piriformis muscle. If you have both low back problem and Piriformis muscle problem causing your sciatica, ice BOTH your low back and your Piriformis.
Don’t put the ice pack directly on your skin. Instead, put a thin piece of clothing, like your t-shirt, or a thin towel between your skin and the ice pack. You can have a thicker barrier if you’re too chilled when using just a t-shirt. Also, don’t lie face down. Instead, ice your low back while you’re lying face up or while you’re sitting.
How long should you keep the ice on? This really depends on your current condition and diagnosis. If you have a condition that is “uncomplicated,” use the ice for 15-20 minutes every 3-4 hours. Before you use ice, make sure you don’t have a vascular or a neurologic condition that makes it unsafe for you to use ice.
Another thing you should try to relieve your sciatica pain is to do the sciatica stretches that we covered earlier. What we didn’t cover in the sciatica stretches above is how long you should hold each sciatica stretch, how many reps you should do, how many times a day you should do them and when during the day you should do these sciatica exercises.
Knowing the answers to the above questions can make these sciatica stretches more effective for you. Doing these sciatica exercises incorrectly, may harm you. To avoid taking up too much space here, we put the answers to these questions in the sciatica book that Dr. Falkenroth wrote, titled “How To Relieve Sciatica Without Back Surgery.”
Simply click on the FREE Sciatica Book box to get FREE instant access to Dr. Falkenroth’s sciatica book.
Other Non-Surgical Sciatica Treatments
There are other non-surgical sciatica treatments that other sciatica sufferers may get sciatica pain relief from. These include massage, acupuncture, cognitive therapy, physical therapy and chiropractic care. Although there are many skilled practitioners in these fields, be sure to choose a practitioner experienced in treating sciatica.
Epidural Spinal Injections
Another sciatica treatment option is spinal injections. These are epidural steroid injections. Because they are more invasive than other treatments, with undesired side effects for certain sciatica patients, these are usually done when the sciatica pain is severe.
Also, these spinal injections are usually a short-term fix and cannot be done over and over due to the potential for severe side effects. These spinal injections are designed to take the edge off your sciatica pain so that you can tolerate the other non-invasive sciatica treatments.
For some sciatica patients, this epidural steroid injection helps, but for others, the injection can make their sciatica worse. Also, some develop new unwanted symptoms as side effects of the spinal injection.
Talk to your doctor about the side effects, pros and cons, and appropriateness of the above sciatica treatments for your specific sciatica condition.
Some sciatica patients try home devices that stretch their backs. Some of these devices require the user to hang themselves upside down. Some don’t. Be careful. You can make your sciatica worse, in addition to creating new problems in other parts of your back and in other joints in your body.
Some sciatica sufferers may have been helped by these devices, but in general, we don’t recommend these devices. We’ve treated patients who have gotten hurt from using these at home back stretching devices. When you have sciatica, it’s best to get the help of a doctor trained in treating sciatica.
Above is a safer machine that can gently stretch your low back and relieve your sciatica pain. We use this at our clinic for our sciatica patients. It was designed by doctors, scientists and engineers. It’s called non-surgical spinal decompression.
Many of our sciatica patients get impressive results from this stretching machine. The goal of this stretching machine is to gently stretch your low back and release any pinched nerves and nerve roots that’s causing your sciatica. Because of its impressive results, this machine has been featured in two major medical journals – Anesthesiology News and Pain Medicine News.
Being on this machine is so easy and relaxing that most patients take a short nap during their treatment session.
Lower Back Pain Treatment
Since Dr. Falkenroth is a chiropractor, he will also examine your spine, especially your lower back and your pelvis. Misalignments in your spine and pelvis can cause sciatica or can make your sciatica worse.
Besides being skilled in the traditional chiropractic hands-on treatments, Dr. Falkenroth is also trained and skilled in using other treatments that use machines to gently treat your spine.
Some patients don’t feel comfortable with the popping, cracking or twisting associated with the traditional chiropractic treatments. If you feel this way, Dr. Falkenroth will use other technology-based treatment techniques that don’t require cracking or twisting your spine.
Here’s one example of a computer-guided spinal treatment that require no cracking or twisting of your spine.
This machine helps detect areas where your spinal joints are not moving. Once it finds the areas in your spine that are stuck or not moving properly, Dr. Falkenroth will use a stylus attached to the machine to gently correct your spinal motion. Some of our patients prefer this treatment over the traditional hands-on chiropractic treatment.
Why is it important to correct and release stuck joints in your spine? To avoid developing herniated disc and spinal stenosis.
Herniated Disc And Spinal Stenosis
In the beginning, you may have noticed a clicking or a cracking sound when you moved your back. This is because the stuck joints caused misalignment in your spine. This misaligned part may be rubbing abnormally against other parts. You may have also noticed that your low back muscles felt stiff, especially in the morning.
Before developing sciatica, you may have felt a sharp pain, a dull ache or stiffness in your low back for days, months or even years. You may have found yourself massaging your back or trying to stretch your low back throughout the day. Studies suggest that the longer your spinal misalignments go uncorrected, the greater your risk.
If your spinal misalignment did not treated properly, your condition probably got worse. Unfortunately, uncorrected spinal misalignments will usually advance to abnormal spinal conditions such as spinal arthritis, bulged discs or herniated discs, degenerative joint disease or spinal stenosis as shown aboce. Any of these conditions can lead to sciatica.
Dr. Falkenroth has been treating sciatica patients for almost 20 years. He has the experience to get the sciatica pain relief that many sciatica patients are looking for.
Here is a patient with sciatic nerve pain talking about her experience with Dr. Falkenroth.
No matter what sciatica treatment or device you try… don’t lose hope. Aren’t you tired of constantly trying to find a comfortable pain-free position? Have you limited your activities to avoid getting seriously hurt? Is it getting harder to stand or to sit for a long time? Especially on a hard surface?
You probably lost too much function and flexibility already. How much more can you stand to lose? You may have decided to live with the leg/foot pain or numbness. After treating hundreds of patients with sciatica, we know that sciatica can progress from a manageable pain to a painfully debilitating pain, sometimes overnight.
After accidentally bending or twisting your back the wrong way, you may feel that instant knife stabbing pain in your low back or leg, compounded by a severe low back muscle spasm, that feels like a giant wrench clamping your back, freezing you in your tracks.
If you live in Santa Cruz County, CA, or if you find yourself in this area, and you want our help with your sciatica, call us at (831) 475-8600 or schedule an appointment online by clicking the “New Patient” box below or come by our clinic. If we think we can help you with your sciatica, we’ll let you know. If we can’t, we’ll advise you on what we think you should do next to get sciatica pain relief.