What is Sciatic Nerve?
The sciatic nerve is a huge nerve which is the longest nerve found in humans. It originates in the lower back and runs its way through the buttock, down to the lower limb and the foot. The sciatic nerve connects the lower area, i.e., muscles and skin of legs, thighs, and foot to the nervous system. The sciatic nerve is responsible for providing sensation to the skin of the feet and legs, excluding the inner leg area.
Pain due to pressed or petulant sciatic nerve, in the lower back area, is termed as sciatica. The most common cause of sciatica is spinal disc herniation, a medical condition in which the spinal disc develops a crack and pinches into the sciatic nerve.
However, there exist some other lower back problems too, which may also lead to a sciatic nerve disorder, like a degenerative disc, spondylolisthesis or piriformis syndrome.
Treatment for Sciatic Nerve Pain
This is a Chinese treatment for sciatic nerve pain, in which painless, hair-like needles are poked into the skin near the area of pain. Acupuncture helps in improving or reviving the natural energy flow of the body and has been found to be an effective treatment that has been used for ages. For better results, warming acupuncture is recommended in which the needles used are heated.
Heat or Ice Packs
In case of acute sciatic nerve pain that you experience in the initial stage, applying heat or ice packs can be helpful, for reducing the pain to some extent. Apply the heat or the ice pack for at least 20 minutes and if needed, repeat it every 2-3 hours.
Hot water bottles can be used for applying hot packs. For applying ice packs, one must keep the ice between a towel or any other thick cloth, to avoid the risk of ice burn.
Epidural Steroid Injections
This is the type of treatment for people who are suffering from sciatic pain for over a month and also for those who do not get any relief from any other therapies available. Epidural Steroid Injections are a type of X-ray guided inoculation of steroids that are inserted into the lower back, next to the sciatic nerve. These injections help in minimizing inflammation in the nerve, in case the pain is severe but has to be taken under supervision only.
Massage therapy is another effective option in the treatment for sciatic nerve pain, but this should not be confused with simple massage, as it is a trigger-point massage, in which only the areas causing pain are pressurized.
The Sciatic Nerve lies beneath a muscle known as “Piriformis” and when the piriformis gets stiff, it, in turn, causes irritation to the sciatic nerve. While massaging, the inflamed parts of the piriformis muscle and the muscles present in the lower back area are pressurized.
Massage helps in relieving back pain, improves blood circulation in the affected pain-prone areas, helps in relaxing the muscles and also stimulates discharge of endorphins, i.e., a pain to relieve constituents present in the body.
Physical Therapy or Exercise
Physical Therapy or exercise is the best natural option available for the treatment for sciatic nerve pain. Lying in the bed and resting for long periods of time can only worsen the situation. Physical activity is important for improving blood circulation in the sciatic nerve, and it also helps in eliminating harmful chemicals from the body that are causing the inflammation in the first place.
You could start with a 10-15 minute walk, then extend it to 20-30 minutes once you get going. In case walking hurts too much, one can also try swimming, as this form of exercise does not exert much pressure on the back area.
Some of the other exercises that you can try out include reclining pigeon pose, knee to opposite shoulder, standing hamstring stretch and sitting spinal stretch.
In case the sciatic nerve pain fails to settle despite adopting any of these treatment methods, and you have been suffering from chronic sciatic nerve pain for at least 5-6 weeks, surgery is the only viable option left.
There are mainly two types of surgeries that may be recommended in the treatment for sciatic nerve pain, and these are:
Microdiscectomy: This is an open type of small surgery suitable for people suffering from lumbar disc herniation, in which a segment of the herniated disc that has been causing irritation in the sciatic nerve is removed.
Lumbar Laminectomy: This is a type of surgery suitable for people suffering from lumbar spinal stenosis, in which a small segment of the bone or the disc material that is causing irritation in the sciatic nerve root is removed.