The most common cause of sciatica is a bulging or ruptured disc in the spine pressing against the nerve roots that lead to the sciatic nerve. While people with “acute sciatica” (short-term) have a good chance of recovering well, about 20 percent to 30 percent will experience persistent problems after one or two years.
A few personal and occupational risk factors raise the odds for developing sciatic nerve pain. These include: older age, being tall, high levels of mental stress, being overweight or obese, sitting for long periods, cigarette smoking, and high amounts of exposure to vibration from vehicles (for example, being a truck driver for a living).
Sciatica symptoms include:
- Strong, sometimes shooting pains in the limbs and lower back — pain can start in the back and work its way down the buttocks and thighs
- Numbness and tingling in the limbs
- Trouble moving or exercising
- Feeling stiff and unable to flex the feet
- Pain when sleeping
- Throbbing and inflammation around the thighs or lower back when sitting or standing for a period of time
In some cases, ongoing numbness in the thighs and buttocks can be a sign of a more serious problem like nerve damage that can become permanent, or even a disease, so it’s always a good idea to see a professional if sciatic nerve pain lasts for a long time. The pain can be a symptom of other conditions that affect the spine, such as narrowing of the spinal canal, bone spurs caused by arthritis, or nerve root compression caused by injury. In rare cases, sciatica can also be caused by conditions that do not involve the spine, such as tumors or pregnancy.
Treating pain caused by Sciatica
Many people find relief by using inexpensive heating pads set on a low or medium setting, placed on the lower back for about 15 to 20 minutes every day. Try a warm shower in place of one session with the heating pad. You can also buy single-use heat wraps that last up to 8 hours. You can also try an ice pack for 10 to 15 minutes every 2 to 3 hours. You can practice this several times a day, about every two or three hours, while at work or when you’re at home.
Physical therapy can help alleviate acute pain symptoms, as well as improve general strength and function. Moving in certain ways can aggravate sciatic pain, but in some cases it can actually help relieve the pain. Some people find that sitting, standing for a long time and moving around abruptly tends to trigger pain. Physical therapist can teach you how to bend, reach, and lift throughout the day in safe positions that can help reduce the pressure on your spinal discs.
It’s important to reduce inflammation in treating sciatica. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen can be used to reduce swelling. These are available both over-the-counter and by prescription. Prescription doses can help curb inflammation. For severe pain stronger medicines such as muscle relaxants or opiates can be prescribed.
Oral corticosteroids are used to reduce swelling and pain. A Trigger Point Injection (TPI) is an intra-muscular injection of a local anesthetic into muscle trigger points, often accompanied by an anti-inflammatory steroid, to combat specific pain points and chronic pain.
Nerve blocks can be used to block pain signals coming from a specific location in the body and/or decrease inflammation in that area. A nerve block is an anesthetic or anti-inflammatory injection into a particular nerve or group of nerves for pain relief.
Our specialists offer many solutions for your sciatica pain. The earlier you get a diagnosis and treatment for nerve compression, the more quickly you’ll find relief. Contact Florida Pain Medicine to determine if treatment can help you.