Sciatica affects a large number of people in Singapore, particularly those between the ages of 30 and 50. And the percentage is quite high, some doctors say it goes up to 80%. It comes unannounced and puts your body through quite a challenge. Some individuals only get numbness and tingling, whereas others experience severe pain. Here is everything you need to know about the problem – from what causes it to how to treat it.
What is Sciatica and What Causes it?
Sciatica is a symptom of a medical condition affecting the biggest nerve in the body – the sciatic one. When irritated, it results in lower back pain and sometimes affects the buttock area. In other words, it is not a malady in and of itself. It is rather an indication that something else is going on in the body that needs your attention.
In most cases, the underlying ailment originates in the spine. This is why the causes of sciatica include spinal stenosis, herniated disc, degenerative disc disease, and cauda equina syndrome.
Moreover, other conditions can trigger the symptom, including muscle strain, fracture, infection, spinal tumour, etc. Last but not least, it is not unusual to experience sciatica pain during pregnancy.
How to Recognize the Symptoms
The body sends a few signals to warn you that there is a pending problem to solve. This includes:
- Severe pain that may cause difficulty walking or standing up
- Weakness/numbness in one foot, leg, toes
- Burning leg pain in one leg/buttock
- Pain gets more intense after long periods of sitting
Discomfort in both legs is a rare occurrence. Sciatica usually manifests itself on one side of the body. Besides, lower back pain is not as strong as the one experienced in the lower limbs. It may come and go, become more intense or weaker. Also, during sudden movements of the body, the symptoms may intensify – think coughing and sneezing.
The fact that the pain can travel from one area to another should not be surprising at all. The nerve roots of the sciatic nerve begin at the lumbar spinal cord, which is enclosed by the spinal canal, and then they reach down the buttock area. This allows them to transfer nerve endings to the lower limbs.
Is it treatable?
There are different surgical and non-surgical ways to manage sciatica. The most popular one involves coupling medication with physical therapy. Many patients believe lying down for prolonged periods is the best thing to do, but this is not the case. Being inactive can do more harm than good - the longer you sit, the more pressure you put on the discs. This is not to say you shouldn’t give your body a break. Just make sure you alternate rest and exercise.
Since nerve pain can be anything but appealing, people also resort to over-the-counter medication. A common painkiller for sciatica is aspirin, as it helps to deal with inflammation. Ibuprofen and acetaminophen are also used for pain relief. Yet, medication alone can only do so much in solving the problem. This is why a combination of pills and exercises will produce better results.
What Are The Best Exercises for Sciatica?
Physical therapy is a crucial part of the nerve pain treatment plan. When the right regimen is implemented, you can have a faster recovery and minimise prospective episodes of soreness. Your doctor will put forward the best course of action that suits your condition. In general, a mixture of exercises should be used for maximum results.
Stretching – It is very beneficial for the whole body because it helps to enhance your flexibility, daily performance, and coordination. When you already have a health problem like sciatica, stretching can help soothe the pain. It is crucial to stretch the hamstring – this is one of the thigh muscles located between the knee and the hip. Another exercise that will help ease the symptoms is called the Bird Dog move. You need to get down on all fours. Simultaneously extend one leg and the opposite arm. Hold for a few seconds. Then, alternate the limbs.
Strengthening – Strengthening the muscles that support the spine can not only alleviate the pain but also prevent future damage. There are different types of exercises to go for, such as weight lifting, tai chi, yoga, and Pilates. In addition, you can try using an exercise ball and resistance bands.
Aerobics – Stationary bicycling, swimming and walking are all low-impact aerobic exercises that can help to combat sciatic pain. They aid in the release of endorphins, which naturally eliminate pain. What is more, they encourage fluid exchange, creating an improved healing environment.
Physical activity is like a tool that lets you stay in control of the symptoms, especially if you have developed chronic sciatica.
Does Acupuncture Work?
It can assist in the management of pain, but it cannot cure the underlying illness that is causing sciatica. Acupuncture is very beneficial for migraines, nausea, neck and back pain. Not to mention, it has proven to help with depression and anxiety. It definitely won’t hurt to use this therapy in addition to another treatment to lower the unpleasant symptoms. It will relax your muscles and increase the production of endorphins.
What Other Treatments Are Available?
There are other non-surgical options that can help diminish the symptoms and make you feel better. For starters, you can try applying cold packs on the painful areas for a few days in a row. And then you should switch to heat packs. This will relieve the pain and reduce inflammation. Regular massages will relax your muscles and yoga will have an impact on your whole body.
An interesting approach to treating sciatica is biofeedback. This is a process that enables you to obtain more information about your body’s functions. During the examination, electrical sensors are connected to your body. Thanks to them, you can get feedback regarding your heart rate, pain perception, and muscle tone, to name a few. Based on the data, you can make the necessary corrections so that your performance and health can improve.
Is Surgery Necessary?
A very small percentage of people - say 5-10% - use surgery as a last resort. When all else has failed, going under the knife seems to be the only option. The good news is that in most cases the symptoms go away on their own and no operation is necessary.
However, conservative treatment may not work for everyone. For instance, a person whose sciatica has been caused by a herniated disk might benefit better from lumbar surgery.
At the same time, another individual with a similar problem may find relief through different therapies and medications. So, it really depends on the case. In the end, you need to understand that what works for some may not work for you, and vice versa. It is strongly individual.
What You Can Do About It
- Find a good doctor that will make a correct diagnosis.
- Ask for a second opinion.
- Do not self-administer a treatment; a specialist knows better.
- Follow your doctor’s recommendations fully.
- You don’t have to undergo surgery if you don’t want to. The decision is up to you.