Why is sciatica so painful? Find out how to relieve the pain

Chronic sciatica is often treated with a mix of self-care techniques and prescription medication. Here's how to treat sciatica.
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Know all about sciatica and how to manage it. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock
Dr Agnivesh Tikoo Updated: 1 Jun 2023, 14:00 pm IST
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Sciatica is one of the most typical conditions that cause back pain and discomfort. It can be quite difficult to manage sciatica on your own. This condition happens when your sciatic nerve becomes irritated or inflamed which typically results in pain, numbness, and tingling in your low back and legs. If you have sciatica, you know how painful it can get. Long-term sciatica is a disorder that can result in constant pain. Although it is harder to treat than acute (short-term) sciatica, there are a number of treatments that can provide relief.

Causes of sciatica

The common cause of sciatica is compression of nerve roots in the lumbar spine. This may be because of slipped or herniated disk, spinal stenosis (narrowing of space for nerves), or a pelvic injury or fracture. Although the most common causes of this condition may be linked to more serious issues like infection or tumours as well. Extra-spinal compression on the sciatic nerve, like in piriformis syndrome (a pain disorder involving the narrow muscles in the buttocks), can also produce similar symptoms.

Why is sciatica so painful?

Sciatica is caused by compression of the nerve roots or sciatic nerve. Since it involves direct neural compression, it can be very painful. In addition, it may be associated with severe burning, numbness or tingling sensations. The sciatic nerve originates at the spinal cord, travels through your hips and buttocks, and then branches down each leg. It may also hamper one’s ability to walk because of severe pain or because of weakness in the legs.

sciatica pain
Sedentary lifestyle is one of the factors behind sciatica. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

How to relieve sciatica pain?

The underlying cause must be treated before treating sciatica. Finding the root of the problem is the most crucial stage. To make the final diagnosis, imaging tests like X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs as well as electrophysiological testing may be necessary. Once sciatica has been diagnosed, the underlying cause is the focus of treatment. Here are 6 ways to relieve sciatica pain:

1. Anti-inflammatory medications

Ibuprofen and naproxen are examples of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), which help reduce inflammation in the body and have pain-relieving effects. Ask your doctor if a prescription strength is right for you if the OTC dose does not relieve your sciatica pain.

2. Hot and cold packs

Immediate and meaningful relief of sciatica pain may be achieved through the application of cold and/or heat therapy. Through the use of cold and/or heat therapy, sciatica pain can be effectively and instantly relieved. Cold therapy is generally helpful at the beginning of sciatica and is then used alternatively with heat therapy. Anti-inflammatory ointments may also aid in reducing muscle spasms and serve as painkillers in addition to hot and cold packs.

sciatica treatment
Know how to treat sciatica the right way. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

3. Physical therapy

Another effective method for reducing pain is physical therapy. To treat pain, physical therapy may use modalities like transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), ultrasound therapy, or interferential therapy (IFT). You can try some stretching exercises. They can help the patient recover and prevent recurrent episodes. It is wise to hold off on starting workouts right away if the cause of your sciatica is unknown.

4. Posture care and ergonomics

It is essential to maintain a good posture and take care of ergonomics because most cases of sciatica are caused by bad posture and improper sitting at the workplace. So, sit straight with the shoulders rolled back and shoulder blades down.

Also read: 6 effective ways to manage sciatica pain during pregnancy

5. Corticosteroid injections

Some medical professionals provide corticosteroids (anti-inflammatory drugs) directly into the spinal region of their patients to address the symptoms of sciatica. The injections are believed to work by reducing inflammation around the spinal nerve.

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6. Surgery

Surgery is only used in cases where patients have experienced serious neurological impairments or have failed conservative treatments for degenerative conditions. It may also be needed for certain non-degenerative pathologies like infections and tumors.

sciatica back pain
Beware of the symptoms of sciatica. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Difference between sciatica and cauda equina syndrome

Similar symptoms can be found in both sciatica and cauda equina syndrome (CES). Sciatica is a common condition that frequently goes away on its own without the need for substantial medical care. Cauda equina syndrome, on the other hand, is a significant medical emergency that requires immediate treatment. Weakness, numbness in the legs, loss of bowel and bladder control, and paresthesias/numbness/tingling in the perineal/private part area are all possible symptoms of cauda equina syndrome.

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About the Author

Dr Agnivesh Tikoo, Consultant Spine Surgery, Apollo Hospitals Navi Mumbai) ...Read More

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