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Sciatica 101: Causes, Symptoms, and Immediate Pain Relief for Sciatica

Do you frequently experience lower back and hip pain that radiates down the back of one leg?

Do you get a “pins and needles” feeling in your legs, toes, or feet?

Do you experience weakness or numbness in your lower back, buttock, leg, or feet?

If any of these sensations sound familiar, you just might have sciatica.

If you do, you are among 40% of the population affected by this condition and you’re definitely not alone in wondering how to get immediate pain relief for sciatica. 

In this guide, we’re going to discuss everything you need to know about sciatica – from its causes, symptoms, treatment options, as well as pain relief prevention, and recommendations.

Let’s dive in!

What is Sciatica?

What is Sciatica?

Sciatica is pain caused by problems with the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back, down the back of each leg to the feet.

Sciatica most commonly occurs in people between the ages of 30 and 50 years as a result of strenuous physical activity like heavy lifting or sports.

It may also affect older people as a result of aging and degeneration of the spine.

Sciatica is a fairly common condition, affecting about 10% to 40% of the population.

Sciatica Pain.

So, what does sciatica pain feel like?

One of the main characteristics one sciatica is pain that radiates from your lower (lumbar) spine to your buttock and down the back of your leg.

It is possible to feel the discomfort almost anywhere along the nerve pathway, but it is especially likely to follow a path from your low back to your buttock and the back of your thigh and calf.

Sciatica pain can vary widely, from a mild ache to a sharp, burning sensation or agonizing pain.

Sometimes, it might even feel like a jolt or electric shock.

It can be worse when you sneeze or cough and prolonged sitting can further aggravate symptoms.

Typically, the only side of your body is affected. 

Some people may also experience tingling, numbness, or muscle weakness in the affected leg or foot.

You might also experience pain in one part of your leg and numbness in another part.

Sciatica Pain at Night Is Worse Why?

Sometimes, you may find that your sciatica pain gets worse at night.

While not everyone experiences this, it is quite common for people with sciatica to report greater pain later at night or whenever they get in bed.

What causes this?

Just as sciatica can have many causes, so too can increased pain at night.

Not all causes are fully understood, but here are some possible reasons you may be hurting more at night:

  • Body Position. When you lay down, the weight of your body may put pressure on your nerves in ways that it doesn’t when you’re standing or sitting. This is especially common with sciatica and other chronic pain caused by pinched or compressed nerves.
  • Attention and Distraction. At night, you may simply be more aware of your pain when there is less to distract you from it. This doesn’t mean that the pain isn’t real (it is!) only that you may be noticing it more at night than you do during the day when you have other things to occupy your mind.

Sciatica Symptoms

Sciatica Symptoms.

So, what are the symptoms of sciatica? Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Numbness or weakness in your lower back, buttock, leg, or feet.
  • Moderate to severe pain in your lower back, buttock, and down your leg.
  • Pain that worsens with movement; loss of movement.
  • “Pins and needles” feeling in your legs, toes, or feet.
  • Loss of bowel and bladder control (due to cauda equina).

Sciatic pain is typically felt in the lower back and hip and radiates down the back of one leg.

What distinguishes it from other types of back pain is that the pain travels below the knee.

The pain may be aggravated by specific actions, such as coughing, sneezing, lifting, or sitting.

Pain and symptoms are usually most severe in the early stages of the condition when compression and inflammation of the sciatic nerve are at their greatest.

It is common for the pain to gradually reduce until it resolves completely – usually within 4 to 8 weeks.

In rare cases, compression of the sciatic nerve can be so severe that there is a progressive weakness in the legs and/or loss of bowel and bladder function.

If these symptoms are experienced, medical attention is required immediately as they can signal severe nerve damage.

Sciatica Symptoms in Hip.

You’re sitting down working at your desk or watching your favorite show on TV when you suddenly notice a dull ache in your hip.

No matter how you shift in your chair, you can’t seem to get comfortable and alleviate the pain that radiates into your buttock.

When you get up to walk around, you feel a tingling, burning sensation down your leg on the same side of your body.

This is a common symptom of sciatica that you can feel around your hip. 

You might be wondering, “Why does my hip hurt if sciatica affects my spine?”

Well, you have two sciatic nerves that run from your lower back through each of your hips and down each leg.

When a herniated disc or bone spur puts pressure on that nerve, you may feel discomfort and pain anywhere along the nerve, from your lower back, hips, and all the way down to your foot in severe cases.

Sciatica Pain Symptoms.

Sciatica may present as a dull ache or agonizing pain, and anywhere in between. Typically, it only occurs on one side of your body at a time.

The pain might get worse when you cough or sneeze, or you might feel your hip and buttock go numb after you sit for a long time.

Sciatica pain symptoms may include:

  • Hip pain
  • Lower back pain
  • Pain in the rear or leg that is worse when sitting
  • Burning or tingling down the leg
  • Numbness, weakness, or a hard time moving the leg or foot
  • Constant pain on one side of the rear
  • A shooting pain that makes it difficult to stand up

Causes

What Causes Sciatica.

The sciatic nerve is the longest and largest nerve in the body.

It originates in the lower spine, branches into the pelvis, then travels through the buttocks, and down the back of each leg.

Sciatic pain occurs when there is pressure on, or damage to, the sciatic nerve.

The most common cause is a herniated disc (also known as disc prolapse or slipped disc).

This occurs when one of the soft, gel-filled discs between the vertebrae of the spine bulges or ruptures, compressing and/or irritating the sciatic nerve.   

Muscle spasms can also cause sciatica by compressing the sciatic nerve as it travels through the muscles.

Less common causes of sciatica include infection, pelvic injury or fracture, and tumors.

In older people, sciatica may occur as the result of conditions caused by spinal degeneration, such as spinal stenosis.

This is where the pathways through which the sciatic nerve travels are narrowed, causing compression and/or irritation of the nerve.

Age-related outgrowths of bone (bone spurs) on the vertebrae can also compress the sciatic nerve.  

While any injury or process which causes compression of the sciatic nerve can cause sciatic pain, in many cases there may be no specific cause identified for the sciatic pain.

Can Sciatica Cause Knee Pain?

If you frequently experience knee pain, you must also be wondering if sciatica is the cause behind it.

To answer your question: Yes, sciatica can cause knee pain.

The pinched nerves can also cause your muscles to misfire and destroy the protection your knee joints need, triggering discomfort and pain.

What Causes Sciatica to Flare Up?

Sciatica flare-ups can be triggered by different factors, from stress to dietary habits.

Whilst sciatic nerve pain can be managed through treatment, it can, unfortunately, flare up from time to time, so understanding the root cause and what can trigger the pain is an important part of your recovery process.

Here are some common causes of sciatica flare-ups:

  • Stress. Stress can exacerbate the pain associated with sciatica. When you’re stressed out, the brain may deprive nerves of oxygen, including the sciatic nerve where the pain begins. This deprivation can lead to leg weakness, pain, and tingling sensations typical of the condition.
  • Poor Posture. The improper body alignment caused by poor posture can put extra stress on the lower back, which causes issues with the sciatic nerve.
  • Lifting with Your Back. When you bend to lift a heavy object, there can be a large amount of pressure on your lumbar discs. When these discs are overworked, the risk of herniating increases, which can compress the sciatic nerve, which can lead to sciatic pain. 

Can Sciatica Cause Foot Pain?

Yes, it can.

The cause of foot pain is likely to be sciatica if it is accompanied by a pain in your lower back that radiates down your leg before reaching your foot.

Other signs of sciatica include pins and needles in your foot or leg, numbness, and muscle weakness. 

When you have sciatica, the pain you feel is usually caused by a slipped disc pressing on the sciatic nerve root.

The sciatic nerve starts in your spine and goes down all the way to your toes – this is why the pain radiates down your leg to your foot.

Treatment  

Sciatica Treatment and Sciatica Pain Relief.

While there is no cure for sciatica, you do have many options when it comes to sciatica treatment and sciatica pain relief, from massages, and pain medications, to surgery if necessary.

Treatment will depend on the severity of your condition. 

Can A Chiropractor Help with Sciatica?

Yes! Chiropractors are a great place to start when you have sciatica.

Chiropractic care is a non-invasive treatment for sciatica symptoms.

Chiropractors diagnose the cause of sciatica and offer a treatment plan based on the patient’s condition.

The type of chiropractic treatment provided depends on the cause of the patient’s sciatica.

A sciatica treatment plan may include several different treatments such as ultrasound, TENS, ice/cold therapies, and spinal adjustments (also known as spinal manipulation).

How to Massage Sciatica Trigger Points.

If your sciatica flares up and you are unable to make it to a chiropractor, there are also self-massage for sciatica relief options you can perform from home.

For example, you can use your palms and thumbs you can alternate pressure on the sore areas of your lower back or legs.

Also, if you have two tennis balls and a sock available you can use the tennis ball massage method, which involves laying on top of the concealed balls to keep the pressure on the painful spot.

Best Sitting Position for Sciatica.

Poor posture in general can aggravate your sciatica, so it’s important you maintain it even when you’re sitting down.

Generally, in order to prevent sciatica (or prevent aggravating the condition), you should sit with both feet flat on the ground, hips at 8 – 10 degrees higher than knees, and lean back in an upright position.

In this way, you can relieve pressure from your glutes, spine, and sciatic nerve.

Heat or Ice for Sciatica.

Immediate relief of sciatica pain may be achieved through the application of cold and/or heat therapy.

Note: Be careful not to use cold and/or heat therapy for prolonged periods to avoid skin and/or nerve damage.

  • Cold Therapy. Placing an ice pack over the rear pelvic area may help relieve sciatica pain. Cold therapy may cause a numbing effect due to the constriction of blood vessels and a decrease in blood flow. It may also reduce e inflammation, which is a common contributor to pain, by decreasing tissue metabolism and oxygen intake.

An ice massage is the application of ice directly on the affected area in a circular motion.

Ice massages help relieve pain over a wider region.

A hand-held ice unit can be made by freezing water in a paper cup and cutting the top half of the cup to expose the ice (like a popsicle).

  • Heat therapy is useful in relieving sciatica pain by mechanisms that help promote tissue healing. Heat therapy can increase the temperature of tissues, causing blood vessels to dilate, and improving the flow of blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the affected region. It may also decrease muscle tension and spasm, helping alleviate pain. 

Since the mechanism of action of heat is directed toward promoting healing, this therapy is best employed after the initial pain flare-up and accompanying inflammation have been controlled with cold therapy.

Best Doctor for Sciatica Nerve Pain

When it comes to who you should see for your sciatica, you have several options.

Family doctors and general practitioners can diagnose and treat simple cases of sciatica.

Physical therapists also treat people with sciatica.

However, if you have severe sciatica, a neurologist, or physician who specializes in the nervous system, is the best person to see.

Your primary doctor may refer you to a specialist in such cases.

MRI For Lower Back Pain Sciatica.

In most cases, a doctor may order an MRI scan for your lower back pain sciatica.

An MRI is an imaging test that provides detailed pictures of the inside of your body.

One of the safest and least invasive imaging tests, an MRI does not use radiation as CT scans and x-rays do.

The MRI uses radio waves and a strong magnetic field to provide detailed pictures of your tissues, bones, and organs.

An MRI can be used to scan any area of the body, and the images produced are both detailed and precise.

 The cause of sciatic nerve pain is usually diagnosed using an MRI.

Pain Prevention and Recommendation  

Now that you understand all about sciatica – from its causes and symptoms, it’s time to talk about pain prevention.

We also list down some product recommendations that may help you manage your sciatic pain. 

Is Walking Good for Sciatica?

Yes! Walking is actually an effective approach for relieving sciatic pain.

How? Regular walking spurs the release of pain-fighting endorphins and reduces inflammation.

However, note that a poor walking posture may aggravate your sciatica symptoms.

Whether you should walk and how much you should walk are questions to discuss with your doctor or physical therapist.

The general view now is that movement and activity are a good thing for people with sciatica, as long as you walk correctly and are not increasing pain.

How to Sit with Sciatica.

You should sit with both feet flat on the ground, hips at 8 – 10 degrees higher than knees, and lean back in an upright position

In this way, you can relieve pressure from your glutes, spine, and sciatic nerve.

Best Office Chair for Sciatica.

If you work long hours at a desk, getting the best office chair for sciatica can help you manage your condition.

Here are some of our product recommendations:

Best Orthopedic Seat Cushion for Sciatica.

Using a seat cushion can help to alleviate pressure on the sciatic nerve roots in the lumbar spine.

Here are some of our product recommendations:

Sciatica Relief In 8 Minutes.

Aside from the abovementioned methods to relieve sciatica pain (i.e. massaging trigger points, using seat cushions, etc.)

did you know that there’s also a way you can relieve sciatica pain in as little as 8 minutes?

If you suffer from sciatica and TRIED EVERYTHING to get rid of it, this proven method is something worth checking out!

With MyBackPainCoach, you can achieve sciatica relief with just 8 specific movements – you don’t need to take or undergo any medications, surgery, injections, or months of physiotherapy.

With MyBackPainCoach, you can restore your body’s muscle balance and natural functional movement in an all-natural manner.

Back Pain Hero is supported by readers like you. We may earn a small commission when you choose our back pain relief recommendations. Learn More

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