Sciatica refers to pain that is associated with the sciatic nerve's pathway. This pathway that the pain travels across involves a variety of areas, including the lower back, hips, buttocks and both legs to the feet and toes. Generally, only one side of the body is affected.
• Pain in the lower spine or following the sciatic nerve pathway
• Coughing or sneezing leading to increased pain levels
• Numbness, tingling or muscle weakness in either foot or leg
Most sciatica symptoms generally pass after a few days, however, if they persist after a week, medical care may be needed, especially in the following cases:
• Sudden or serve lower back pain, numbness or muscle weakness
• Traffic accidents that have resulted in back pain
• Bowels or bladder changes
Sciatic pain can occur when the nerve is irritated or more rarely, compressed by a herniated disk or bone spur, or tumour pressure on either the nerve or vertebrae. Other risk factors include:
• Age related changes to the spine
• Obesity putting increased pressure on the spine
• Occupation contributors eg, twisting the spine, picking up heavy loads incorrectly or prolonged sitting
• Chronic conditions such as diabetes leading to increased risk of nerve damage
The doctor performs a physical examination to assess both muscle strength and reflexes, as well as a series of stretching and movement activities. Medical imaging tests required to identify herniated disks or bone spurs.
Treatment and management
Most cases of sciatica pain resolve through conservative treatments such as physical therapy. Using self-care methods such as practising the physical therapy at home are highly recommended to avoid reoccurrence, which may consist of a series of muscle strength exercises, for example.
In rare cases steroid injections could be considered, which are injected into the painful area and help reduce the inflammation. Surgery is only given to people who are experiencing significant leg weakness and bowel/ bladder problems. This surgery consists of removing the bone spur or some of the herniated disk but will not always totally relieve the pain.