Sciatica: The Causes, Symptoms and Treatment Options of Sciatic Nerve Pain
What is Sciatica?
Sciatica is the blanket term for weakness, tingling and pain in the buttocks and leg caused by pressure on or injury to the sciatic nerve. It is not a medical condition in and of itself, but rather corresponds to another trauma.
What Causes Sciatica?
Trauma to the back that affects the sciatic nerve could include spinal stenosis, a herniated (slipped) disc, tumors, pelvic injury or fractures, or Piriformis syndrome (inflammation of the Piriformis muscle).
The sciatic nerve runs from the L4 (lumbar) to the S3 (sacral) vertebrae and is one of the largest nerves in humans and animals alike. It is the widest and longest nerve in the body, connecting the skin and muscles of the leg and foot with the nervous system.
Sciatica Treatment Options
There are several ways that the pain of sciatica is treated. Oral medications include over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers like aspirin or acetaminophen. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as ibuprofen or naproxen, are often used for pain and inflammation. However, recent research has shed light on numerous FDA concerns regarding NSAIDs – including an increased risk of suffering a stroke or heart attack as well as liver damage.
Doctors will sometimes prescribe a muscle relaxant to help ease chronic back spasms linked to sciatica. Chronic pain can have a debilitating effect on the sufferer, to the point that anti-depressants may be administered. In severe cases, a physician may see fit to treat the pain with stronger medication like opiates.
If the discomfort is due to a ruptured or bulging disc, a steroid injection could help relieve the pressure and inflammation and ease the resulting pain for a while.
Topical creams, lotions or ointments may be applied throughout the day. These are often used in tandem with other medications or therapies. Care should be taken that medicine is not doubled up on. An overdose can occur if, for instance, an OTC aspirin is taken and the person also uses an ointment or lotion that contains aspirin.
Symptoms of Sciatica
An irritated sciatic nerve can cause a wide array of symptoms. These could range from a mild, dull ache to severe pain traveling down the leg or burning sensations. For some, the leg pain (radiculopathy) is worse than the back pain.
Often, the pain is regulated to one side; however, this is not always the case. There may be sharp pains in the hip that travel all the way down to the foot. The affected side may feel weak and numb. The sole of the foot may have no feeling at all and walking may become difficult.
Pain may be intensified with regular movements like standing, sitting, coughing, sneezing, twisting, lifting an object and of course, anything that puts a strain on the back or the nerve itself.
Natural Treatments for Sciatica
There are many reasons one might seek out alternative or herbal treatments for sciatica pain relief. These could range from those who only want to treat their bodies with natural or herbal substances, to those who cannot take certain medications due to other health issues such as kidney or liver disease.
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Natural remedies for the treatment of sciatic nerve pain include:
- Exercises that help strengthen the muscles and lower back can improve blood flow to the area. A strong back is less likely to be injured by daily activities.
- Alternating heat and ice treatments has been shown to help ease chronic back pain in athletes, and can help pain creams penetrate further and deeper into the muscles.
- Chiropractors can provide any necessary adjustments to get the spine in proper alignment, which can reduce the pain of sciatica in some cases.
- Yoga is a discipline that can help strengthen the back, stretch the muscles and help with depression caused by chronic pain or other issues.
- Massage therapy may be helpful to relax the muscles and tissues surrounding the sciatic nerve, although it must be noted that massage is counter-indicated for many forms of back trauma.
- Stretching is a daily activity everyone should perform. Even in cases where rigorous or moderate exercise is not an option, regular stretching can help keep the muscles lean and supple and prevent further injury.
- Natural topical preparations that include ingredients like St. John’s wort oil, capsaicin, cayenne and black pepper, as well as cannabinoids and other substances found in hemp root oils, can all ease chronic back pain naturally.
Studies are proving what users have known anecdotally for years – that the cannabis plant provides relief for chronic pain. Medical cannabis is available in many forms that can help ease your sciatic pain, including edibles and topical preparations.