Sciatica itself is not a condition, but a very uncomfortable symptom of many potential problems in the back, pelvis, and hip.
People with sciatica often experience pain running through the buttocks and down the back of the leg. However, it does not have to originate in the back; it can be caused by an injury to the pelvis or hip, or from direct pressure to the sciatic nerve.
The pain can be mild or so severe that a person with sciatica may have trouble standing, sitting, or even sleeping. There is a range of treatments for sciatica, including many stretches that may help to ease the pain.
The sciatic nerve is a nerve that originates in the lower back on either side of the spine. It runs through the buttocks and into the hips before branching down each leg.
This nerve is the longest nerve in the body and provides sensation to the outer leg and foot.
Sciatica itself is not an injury or disease. Instead, sciatica refers to a symptom of any number of problems.
Sciatica is nerve pain that runs through the buttocks, down the back of the leg and into the ankle or foot.
Some people that have sciatica describe the pain as shooting, sharp, or burning. They may experience weakness in the affected leg. The pain may worsen with sudden movements, such as coughing.
Certain stretches may provide some relief for people experiencing sciatica-related pain.
Anecdotally, most people with sciatica do find stretching helps relieve pain. However, people with sciatica should speak to a doctor before doing any sciatica stretches to avoid further injury.
A doctor or physical therapist may recommend that people perform several of these stretches each day:
- knees to chest
- cobra or modified cobra
- seated hip stretch
- standing hamstring stretch
- seated spinal twist
- knee to shoulder
Follow these simple instructions to perform these stretches for sciatica pain relief:
If any of these exercises make the sciatica worse, stop immediately. It is normal to feel stretching during these movements, however it is not normal for the sciatic pain to increase.
As well as stretching, some people who experience sciatica symptoms also try other home remedies to ease their pain and discomfort.
Other home remedies include the following:
- Ice: Icing the area for 20 minutes several times a day for the first two to three days after the pain begins.
- Heat: Using heat on the area after the first few days.
- Anti-inflammatories: Taking anti-inflammatory medications to ease the pain. Ibuprofen is available for purchase over-the-counter or online.
Anyone that experiences sciatica for longer than a month should seek medical attention. Additionally, any person that has severe sciatica should seek medical care as soon as possible.
Sciatica is a symptom of a problem and not the problem itself. As such, it has many potential causes.
Treatment for an individual's sciatica largely depends on what is causing the pain.
Some common causes of sciatica include the following:
- a herniated disc or one of the rubbery cushions between the spinal bones slipping out of place
- a narrowing of the spinal cord that puts pressure on the lumbar spine known as lumbar spinal stenosis
- a progressive disease that wears away the cushions in the spinal column known as degenerative disk disease
- other injuries to the back that put excess pressure on the sciatic nerve
It is not always possible to prevent sciatica. However, some lifestyle modifications can significantly help reduce a person's risk of experiencing sciatica again.
In general, regular exercise and building a strong core may help prevent sciatica. Additionally maintaining a good posture while sitting and standing is important, and may make people less likely to develop sciatica than people with poor posture.