Sciatica is the name that is given to a common type of pain that radiates along the sciatic nerve, a large nerve that runs down the back of the leg. This article will help to explain what causes sciatic pain, and guide you to which exercises for sciatica may be of benefit.
What is Sciatica?
Sciatica is not a medical diagnosis as such, but rather a way to describe a particular set of symptoms that can occur due to an underlying medical condition that causes compression of the sciatic nerve.
These symptoms of sciatica are usually only on one side, and may be one of, or a combination of:
- Pain that runs from the lower back down the back of the leg or buttock. The pain can vary from a mild ache to a sharp, burning or shooting pain that can become debilitating.
- Pain that is worse when sitting.
- You may experience numbness, tingling or weakness in the affected leg.
- The pain can be made worse by coughing or sneezing.
- Sharp pain that can make it difficult to walk.
The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body and is about the diameter of your thumb. It runs from the lower back all the way down your leg and as well as being the biggest, it is also the longest nerve in the body. It is derived from the spinal nerves that exit the spine from L4 through to S3 joining together.
The symptoms of sciatica occur when the any one of these nerve roots that form the sciatica nerve is being compressed or irritated in the lumbar spine. This is what people classically think of as a 'pinched' nerve. It is not usually the result of a single injury, but an accumulation over time.
Most cases of sciatica will do away over time. How ever you should seek urgent medical attention if the pain has a sudden onset, is the result of a bad injury such as a car accident, it is not getting better after a week, or if you ever have trouble controlling your bowel or bladder.
What Causes Sciatica?
Compression of the sciatic nerve is most commonly caused by a herniated disc at the L5-S1 spinal level. You can read more about herniated discs here.
Other causes of sciatica are:
- Degenerative disc disease (breaking down of the spinal discs, read more here.)
- Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal nerve canals in the lumbar spine, usually as a result of calcification/bone spurs.)
- Spondylolysthesis (a condition where one vertebra slips forward on the vertebra below.)
- Piriformis Syndrome (a muscle in the buttock that can compress the sciatic nerve if it spasms.)
- Sacro-iliitis (Dysfunction of the sacro-iliac joint can irritate the L5 nerve root)
Rarer causes of sciatica may include pregnancy, spinal tumour, scar tissue, or infection.
Exercises For Sciatica
It is important to obtain an accurate diagnosis from your health care professional before starting any exercises, particularly if you are suffering with sciatica. There is not much point in stretching your Piriformis muscle if you have a disc herniation! And this is exactly why you have to be very careful before attempting any exercise regime. There is a real possibility that you could aggravate your condition if you do the wrong thing.
The next article will guide you through the exercises that will help to relieve sciatica, relevant to the cause. Try to start exercising as soon as possible, within a few days of the sciatica flaring up. The longer you leave it the worse the condition becomes. You can find the article that covers the exercises (with diagrams) by clicking this link.
Before beginning any exercise program, particularly exercises for sciatica, you should see a health professional to get a correct diagnosis for your pain to rule out any potentially serious problems. We would like to stress again the importance of a correct diagnosis, that way it will give you the best chance to really find out if sciatica exercises relieve pain.
The proper exercises differ based on the underlying condition that is causing the sciatic pain, so patients should not try to self-treat their sciatica before consulting a health professional or spinal specialist such as a chiropractor.
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