Woman Wrapping Man's Leg with Bandage
Woman Wrapping Man's Leg with Bandage

Sciatica is a term commonly thrown around to describe leg pain, which can include the buttock(s), thigh(s), or leg(s), and even into the foot. However, Sciatica is not a medical diagnosis, as it only describes symptoms, not the source or cause of why the symptoms exist in the first place. The term sciatica derives from the sciatic nerve, which is a collection of individual nerve roots stemming from the spinal cord. The nerve roots bundle together near the back and buttock to assemble the largest nerve of the leg(the sciatic nerve)which then branches into other nerves of the lower leg once it passes the knee.

Though the term sciatica is used to loosely describe leg pain and symptoms, it prevalence is quite high. However, not all leg pain is irritation of the sciatic nerve! Sciatica is rarely associated with a specific event causing injury, rather it’s described as occurring for no apparent reason. However, certain conditions requiring immediate medical attention can mimic sciatica symptoms. If you’re experiencing sciatica-like symptoms with progressive neurological symptoms e.g weakness, numbness, drop foot, bladder dysfunction, or bowel dysfunction (occurring about the same time)Call the ER now.

Spinal tumors and infections can also mimic sciatica. The vast majority of people who experience sciatica will experience resolution naturally by giving it time — from weeks to months — and staying mobile. More serious cases of sciatica can take months to years. Very few cases of sciatica require surgery. If the symptoms are severe to the point where it’s drastically affecting your daily functions, medical intervention (i.e steroid injections or surgery) may be your best next step. While most cases of sciatica can be treated conservatively with great results, identifying the source of the problem is absolutely imperative. Sciatica-like symptoms typically stem from the spine. If your leg symptoms change with how you use your body, it’s likely from a spinal source and can resolve with the correct movement strategy.

Most muscle and joint problems, like sciatica, will resolve on their own with time and movement. Here are a few helpful strategies to get you there sooner, without unnecessarily setting yourself back. Motion is like lotion for your body. Unless it’s extremely painful to move, staying active is the best advice to give someone who is suffering from sciatica, that changes with certain movements, postures, or positions.  As a rule of thumb, it’s best to avoid movements and positions that make you feel worse or stiffer and continue to move in a way that makes you feel and move better. For example, if sitting makes you feel worse and stiffer, but standing or walking makes you feel better and more mobile, avoid sitting and stand or walk more. If you have pain/stiffness in your back with associated sciatica, your symptoms get worse when you sit and better when you are up and moving around, it’s likely you will benefit from a simple exercise called the press-up. What you do is lay down on your front, placing your palms down beside your ears. Next, press your upper body up while letting the hips sag toward the ground. If you have pain at a certain point of the movement, return to start. Perform this for 10 repetitions every three hours for the next two days to determine if it’s mitigating your sciatica symptoms.

The majority of individuals who respond to a repetitive extension movement strategy can resolve their problem on their own. However, this exercise is far from a one-fits-all solution. As a result, if you suspect the exercise is making you feel more pain and stiffness, it’s best to stop performing it and seek professional assistance.  Also posture matters, yes, posture –A every mother’s favorite critique of their children. No matter how far your roll your eyes in the back of your head, Mom has a point — posture matters. Though there’s no scientific evidence of an ideal posture, we can easily test the effects of posture on ourselves. To learn if posture matters for you, try placing a rolled up towel in the small of your back whenever you’re sitting. The towel helps you to maintain an upright posture without having to ask too much of your postural muscles. Test the towel strategy for a few days to determine if it makes your sciatica symptoms more tolerable throughout the day.

Lastly, if you are struggling with sciatica or sciatica-like symptoms, contact a doctor or physical therapist to help guide toward a solution.

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