Are You At Risk of Developing Sciatica? Here’s What You Should Know.July 22, 2018
Sciatica refers to pain that occurs along the path of the sciatic nerve.
This nerve runs from your lower back, through your hips, and down each of your legs. Usually, sciatica only affects one side of your body, but in rare cases, it can affect both. Particularly if you have an occupation where you are sitting for prolonged periods, like driving a truck, or are performing strenuous tasks, such as firefighting, you should be aware of this condition.
Causes & Risk Factors
Sciatica is caused by a pinching of the sciatic nerve. This is most commonly the result of a herniated disc in your spine or a bone spur on your vertebrae. Less commonly, it can be caused by a tumor growth in the area or damage done by a disease, like diabetes. There are several risk factors that can increase your chances of developing this condition. Those include:
- Age: The primary cause of herniated discs and bone spurs.
- Obesity: Increases stress on your spine.
- Occupation: Jobs that require bending, twisting, and hard labor can increase your risk.
- Prolonged Sitting: Sciatica is more prevalent in sedentary people than active people.
- Diabetes: Increases your risk of nerve damage.
If you start experiencing the symptoms above, your doctor will initially perform a physical exam to check your muscle strength and reflexes. They may ask you to walk on your toes, rise from a squatting position, or lift your legs one at a time while lying on your back to see if the pain worsens with these activities. From there, if your doctor suspects that you have sciatica, they will order at least one imaging test (X-ray, MRI, CT scan) to make a final diagnosis.
You can initially try self-care methods, such as heat and ice therapy, stretching, and over-the-counter medications, to improve your sciatica pain, but if these do not relieve your symptoms, you may need to look into other options. Your doctor can recommend prescription drugs (anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants, and narcotics), physical therapy, or chiropractic care to improve your pain. In more in severe cases, they may suggest steroid injections or surgery. Steroid injections can drastically reduce inflammation in the area, but you run the risk of experiencing serious side effects if you get these injections on a regular basis. Surgery is typically only used as a last resort, or if the sciatica pain causes significant weakness or the loss of bladder/bowel control.