The Painful Truth: What Sciatic Pain Really Means and How Can You Treat It

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The Layperson’s Definition of Sciatic Pain

A stinging and burning sensation with sharp pains from your back all the way to your leg… this strain is most likely sciatic pain. While notorious for being relentless and disruptive to daily life, there is much more to know about this spinal affliction.

Sciatic Pain, or ‘sciatica’, refers to pain that radiates down the sciatic nerve, the longest nerve in our bodies. Running from the lower back, or pelvis, down the back of the thigh to the legs and feet, this nerve is crucial for connecting the spinal cord to the muscles and skin of the lower leg and foot. It makes sense that pain originating from this nerve can be intense and debilitating.

Sciatic Pain, As Defined by Interventional Orthopedic Pain Management Specialists

Sciatic pain can be caused by a variety of conditions that inflict irritation on the sciatic nerve. Thus, it is more often considered an affliction rather than an official diagnosis. Some common causes include:  

  • Herniated disks refer to the bulging or rupturing of a disc in the lower back, which may increase pressure on the sciatica nerve root.  
  • Spinal stenosis is the narrowing of the spinal canal and can result in compression of the sciatic nerve root.  
  • Degenerative disc disease, often resulting from natural aging, is characterized by the deterioration of spinal disks, which may increase pressure on the sciatic nerve.   
  • Trauma and injuries to the lower back, or even prolonged bad posture, can lead to compression or inflammation of the sciatic nerve.

In addition to these common diagnoses, some additional habits and factors that can increase your likelihood of developing sciatica include getting infrequent exercise, sitting or sleeping in distressing positions, and having diabetes or obesity, among other conditions.

Looking Out for Sciatic Pain & Taking Action

The first warning sign of sciatica is often worsening pain that spreads down the buttocks and the back of one thigh. This pain can extend to your foot as well and many compare the sensation to “pins and needles” or “TV static”. In some severe cases, burning sensations and muscle weakness can occur. Symptoms may worsen when performing physically testing activities like sitting down, bending over, lifting objects, or twisting. One person’s experience with sciatic pain can be drastically different from that of another because symptoms experienced are largely dependent on where the nerve is experiencing irritation.

Sciatica is most often confirmed during physical exams if the patient’s radiculopathy (radiating pain) worsens with certain motions. Imaging such as X-rays, MRIs, CT scans, or EMGs may then be required to narrow down and identify the source of pressure or irritation imposed on the sciatic nerve. A diagnosis and treatment plan can usually be made by this point.

Common treatments for sciatic pain include…  

  • Physical therapy and routine exercise regimens to stretch and strengthen the surrounding muscles  
  • NSAIDS (nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs) for short-term reduction of inflammation on the sciatic nerve  
  • Epidural steroid injections (also known as cortisone injections) for longer-term, though usually temporary, reduction of inflammation.  
  • Chiropractic realignment to relieve pressure on the sciatic nerve  
  • Surgery is usually reserved for extreme cases in which the bone or herniated disk that is pressing on the nerve must be removed

Listen to Your Body and Speak Up Early

Though sciatic pain can range from mildly irritating sensations to debilitating pain, medical intervention should always be pursued as early as possible. Taking this action before more damage is done can increase your available treatment options and your chances of a speedier recovery. When you go to seek treatment, it is important that you consult a specialized physician, such as an interventional orthopedic pain management specialist. 

While you await your appointment, there are still at-home, conventional measures you can try to alleviate the pain.  

  • Over-the-counter NSAIDs to systematically reduce inflammation (you should consult your primary care physician before doing so if you have pre-existing health conditions)  
  • Hot and cold therapy to ease muscles surrounding the nerve (it is important that you research safe practices beforehand and listen to your body when applying heat/cold)  
  • Light exercise, stretching, and regular changing of positions to take pressure off the nerve (listening to your body and identifying how certain movements and positions affect your pain level is crucial)

If you are in need of a pain-management specialist, the doctors at Ospina Medical may be able to help you. Book an initial consultation with Dr. Raj Maniam or Dr. Matthew Kohler today so you can get started on your journey to pain relief. 

Written By: Sudheshna Thirunahari

Edited By: Camden Rowe

* All information subject to change. Images may contain models. Individual results are not guaranteed and may vary.