Sciatic nerve pain or Sciatica is due to the compression of the sciatic nerve in the lower back triggered by the following causes:
- Direct Sciatic Nerve Compression
It is estimated that the annual incidence in the general population is between 1% to 5% and the lifetime incidence is between 10% and 40% .
1- How Long Will Sciatica Take to Heal?
Sciatica can lasts 4-6 weeks, however, it can last longer depending on the causes.
2- What is the Sciatic Nerve?
The sciatic nerve is responsible for sensations in the feet and legs.
It is hosted and protected by the spine and starts at the base of the brain and travels all the way to the lumbar region of the spine where it branches into right and left.
Each branch will continue its enervation route all the way to the feet (right or left).
2- What Triggers Sciatica?
- Direct Sciatic Nerve Compression
Our spine or vertebral column is made of 24 vertebrates, the sacrum, and the coccyx.
We have 7 vertebrates of the neck (cervical vertebrates), 12 of the midback (thoracic vertebrates), and 5 of the lower back (lumbar vertebrates).
Each vertebrate is joined to another vertebrate by a disc (intervertebral disk).
- Lumbar Herniated Disc
When a lumbar intervertebral disc bulges or herniates, it can compress the sciatic nerve resulting in pain.
Lumbar Herniated Disc causes 90% of the direct sciatic nerve compressions .
The degeneration of the tissues of vertebrates in the lumbar part of the spine can result in the compression of the sciatic nerve.
When a vertebrate slips out of position due to a stress fracture it can compress the sciatic nerve.
- Lumbar Spinal Stenosis
The spine canal through with passes the sciatic nerve may decrease in size due to factors, such as age, resulting in the compression of the sciatic nerve.
- Lumbar or Pelvic Muscular Spasm
Spasm in muscles such as the piriformis muscle can irritate or compress the sciatic nerve.
- Hematoma or abscess
Hematoma or abscesses around the sciatic nerve can cause compression of the sciatic nerve.
Spinal tumors that originate from the vertebra, spinal cord, or nerves can also compress the sciatic nerve.
Within the spine, there is an acid substance known as hyaluronic acid. When the spine is damaged, this substance leaks into the surrounding tissues of the sciatic nerve causing its irritation, inflammation, or compression.
3- What Are the Risk Factors of Sciatic Nerve Pain (Sciatica)?
- Occupation and Sciatica
There is a predisposition for sciatica in workers including truck drivers, carpenters, and machine operators due to long hours in uncomfortable positions.
- Lack of Physical Activity and Sciatica
Lack of physical activity can weaken lower back muscles (lack of flexibility, tone, and movement) resulting in less support for the lumbar spine and potential compression of the sciatic nerve.
- Smoking and Sciatica
Although the mechanism is not well known, smoking appears to be a modest risk of sciatica .
- Mental Health and Sciatic
Depression and anxiety disorders have been associated with sciatica due to the release of inflammation factors (inflammatory mediators) in the lower back region which can irritate the sciatic nerve .
- Tall height in older age groups (50 to 60 years)
A study that included 13680 participants found a correlation between tall height and lower back pain or related surgery .
- Obesity and excess weight
- Genetic susceptibility
A study reported a higher incidence of sciatica or prolapsed disc in first-degree relatives of patients hospitalized for herniated lumbar disc or surgery .
Another study of 9365 pairs of adult twins found a correlation between genetics and the incidence of sciatica .
- Previous injury
Previous injuries in athletes or workers can result in lumbar intervertebral disc bulges or herniation.
Diabetes is a metabolic disorder that can cause damages to the sciatic nerve.
The growing baby during pregnancy can generate extra weight resulting in a weight that is applied on the spine and related muscles which may cause muscle strain.
- Recreational Activities
5- What Are the Symptoms of Sciatica?
- Pain in the lower back, buttock, and leg which can be intermittent or persistent.
- Reduced movement and mobility together with moderate or severe pain.
- Weakness in the lower back and leg.
- Numbness or pins-and-needles sensations along the leg and foot.
6- When Should I Worry About Sciatica?
Sciatica can be due to severe or chronic conditions such as tumors, bilateral sciatica, scarred tissues, hematoma, cysts or abscesses, spinal tuberculosis, medications non-responsive infections, or fracture in the vertebrates of the lumbar spine.
These conditions may require surgery to restore the function of the lower spine and surrounding tissues.
5- Sciatica Treatment
Sciatica treatment may involve non-surgical or surgical therapies.
- Non-surgical therapies
Exercises for Sciatica
Physical therapy aims at restoring strength to the spine and lower-back muscles, buttocks, hip, and abdomen which may involve swimming, walking, and specific stretching movements with a help of a physical therapist.
Losing weight through a healthy diet can significantly reduce chronic sciatica by decreasing the weight being carried in the front, and therefore, reducing the weight on the spine and related muscles.
This effort can be complemented with exercise to strengthen the spine and lower back muscles, buttocks, hip, and abdomen.
For workers with a predisposition for sciatica, preventing certain positions or intermittent stretching while working can prevent or reduce the risk of sciatica.
Acupuncture, yoga, and massages can relieve muscle spasms at the lower back and leg, and therefore, pain associated with sciatica.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin and ibuprofen, and spinal injections of steroids (corticosteroids) are used to temporarily reduce pain associated with inflammation and swelling.
Myorelaxants are also used to relax the muscles and relieve the spasms.
Surgery is required to remove the tumors, abscesses, hematomas that compress the spine and the sciatic nerve.
When the sciatica is due to a hernia of a disc or multiple discs or to lumbar spinal stenosis, surgery is necessary to restore their function.
Sciatica is a very painful experience that can be due to lifestyle or working conditions but also to severely debilitating conditions that require several surgical procedures to restore the function of the lower spine and reduce the irritation or compression of the sciatic nerve.