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What is Sciatica?


Reviewed by Karlie Stiles, AANP, FNP, Specialist in Family Medicine

Did you know about 40% of people suffer from sciatica in their lifetime, and it is one of the most common types of back pain?

What causes sciatica?

Sciatica typically occurs when the sciatic nerve is compressed, inflamed, or pinched. The nerve branches from your hips down to your legs. The most common reasons for this type of nerve compression are due to a herniated disk, trauma to the spine, bone spur on the spine, or narrowing of the spine. The nerve can also be compressed by a tumor or damaged by another disease, such as diabetes. Typically, sciatica only affects one side of the body.  

What are some of the risk factors?

  • Age: As you get older age-related changes in your spine are the most common reasons for sciatica
  • Obesity: Excess body weight can contribute to increased stress on your spine which in turn can trigger sciatica.
  • Occupation: If you often carry heavy loads or drive for extended periods, you may be more at risk for developing sciatica.
  • Prolonged Sitting: people who sit for a long time and have a sedentary life have a greater risk than active people.
  • Diabetes: Diabetes increases the risk of nerve damage.
  • Injury: An injury to your lower back can also increase your risk.
  • Smoking: Nicotine in tobacco can weaken bones, damaged spinal tissue, and wear down your vertebra quicker.
  • Pregnancy: Sciatica is common in pregnant women due to hormone change and ligament strength. It is usually alleviated after birth.

Symptoms of Sciatica

The most typical symptom of sciatica is the pain that radiates from your lower spine to your buttocks and down the back of your legs. Other symptoms can include numbness, tingling, or muscle weakness in the affected leg or foot. The pain can vary from a mild ache to a sharp burning sensation or excruciating pain. Often, it feels like an electric shock and happens to one side of the body. Prolonged sitting can make symptoms more pronounced. Most people recover fully from sciatica. If left untreated, sciatica can cause permanent nerve damage. What can you do to prevent sciatica and treat it? While there is no viable way to prevent sciatica, here are a few things you can do to protect your back and lessen your risk factor.

  • Exercise regularly
  • Maintain proper posture when you sit
  • Use good body mechanics
  • Avoid smoking
  • Maintain a healthy diet/weight
  • Keep yourself safe from back injuries

  If you are suffering from lower back/sciatica pain, you can do the following to help ease the pain.

  • Ice/Heat packs
  • Over the counter pain medication
  • Gentle stretches
  • Massages

When should you see a healthcare professional?

Typically, sciatica pain goes away on its own with time and self-care treatment. Sciatica pain can vary in intensity and may require a visit to your healthcare professional if the pain is more severe and involves the following: severe leg pain lasting more than a few hours, numbness or muscle weakness in the same leg, bowel, or bladder control loss, or sudden and severe pain from an accident or other trauma.  For milder symptoms, try at-home treatments first. If the pain does not go away after six weeks of at-home treatment, you should see a healthcare professional. At Galen Anytime, we are here to help you with convenient care for our patients when they need us most. Call us at (423) 497-5359 to schedule your appointment with us today.