Sciatic Pain – What is it and how to prevent

The sciatica is a robust and incapacitating pain due to inflammation of the sciatic nerve. Usually, this pain only affects one side. It’s not a disease, but a symptom of a problem involving the nerve to which the name was sought, the sciatic, the longest human body. This nerve descends from the spine to the feet, through the buttocks and each leg. It controls most of the muscles of the lower limbs, giving sensitivity to the thighs, legs, and feet.


What are the symptoms of sciatica?

The inflammation of the sciatic nerve can cause severe pain from the lower back, radiating to the buttock, thigh, leg and foot to the heel. This can make it impossible for the person to walk and even to move around. Sometimes only part of this path is painful. Pain may occur by numbness and muscle weakness in the leg or foot. The tingling or another part of the leg may also feel tingling. The pain is of variable intensity, from light to very intense, accompanied by a sensation of burn and extreme discomfort, being still described as similar to an electric shock.

What are the causes of the inflammation of the sciatic nerve?

Sciatica occurs when the nerve is under pressure, usually in the lumbar region (the lower part of the spine). And the cause is, almost always, a herniated disc or a lumbar arthrosis. But it can also be a spinal tumor, an inflammatory, infectious, or traumatic disease resulting, for example, from a road accident or a fall.

Why does it hurt?

The pain is caused by the compression of the root of a nerve. Sciatica manifests when one of the following two roots is compressed: the root L5, which emerges during the fourth and fifth lumbar vertebrae, or the root S1, which emerges between the fifth lumbar vertebra and the first sacred vertebra. In the latter case, the evolution of arthrosis narrows the channel through which all nerve roots pass.

Am I at risk for Sciatica?

Anyone can complain of sciatic pain, but it becomes more frequent from the age of 30, due to the effects of aging on the structure of the spine. It is from the third decade of life that the vertebral discs, which separate the vertebrae and function as shock absorbers of the movement, begin to undergo some deterioration, opening the way for a herniated disc. Also,  occupation is a risk factor if it involves the driving of vehicles for a long time, the transport of heavy loads or movements that imply effort for the spine. Even incorrect body postures can end up putting pressure on the nerve. Sciatica is still common in people who are sedentary or who sit too long. And it can also be a consequence of diabetes, as this chronic disease related to sugar metabolism increases the risk of neuropathy (nerve damage).

How is sciatica treated? Can exercise prevent?

Yes, regular exercise can treat and help prevent sciatica. It may seem hard to exercise when you are in pain, but regular exercise is one of the best ways to fight chronic pain. Exercise allows the body to release endorphins – chemicals that prevent pain signals from reaching the brain.

At the beginning of recovery from sciatica, exercises in water or other low-impact exercises such as cycling are the most indicated because they do not aggravate the symptoms. At a later stage, when the pain subsides, activities that improve the strength of the abdominal and spinal muscles should be combined.

Analgesia can be done through medications, with analgesics or anti-inflammatories, or even by acupuncture. Analgesics and, more specifically, anti-inflammatories are often prohibited in elderly patients. Particularly those with renal or cardiac insufficiency, and can cause side effects like gastritis, diarrhea, and even hemorrhages. Also, chronic use of these drugs is not advised.

More Pain Relief Tips:

  • Apply warm or icy compresses to the painful area to relieve pain;
  • Wear comfortable, non-heeled shoes;
  • Try not to stand still in the same position for a long time, especially sitting or lying on your stomach;
  • Pay attention and interest to the signals that your body gives you and avoid activities that seem to increase pain;
  • Try to maintain a correct posture when sitting down. An Ergonomic office chair should support the hips, and the seat should not press the back of your thighs or knees. If the chair does not support your natural curve at the bottom of the spine, put a support pillow for the office chair or rolled towel on the back of your office chair.
  • Avoid picking up on heavy loads. If you have to grab something heavy from the floor, bend your knees and keep the right column.

Physiotherapist Council

You should always try conservative treatment before resorting to surgery. Consult your doctor, that you may indicate Physiotherapy. One possibility is to use a strap or support band, which helps hold the weight of the belly and relieves pressure on the spine. The physical therapist can teach you postural correction exercises strengthen the pelvic muscles, abdominals and back, and also some stretching positions.