What Is Sciatica? And How Do I Treat It?

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If you’ve been recently diagnosed with sciatica, you might be wondering what this condition is exactly and how it’s treated. Affecting up to 40% of all adults at some point during their lifetime, sciatica is a common musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) that’s characterized by chronic pain in one leg as well as the lower back. While that definition sounds simple enough, you must first understand the causes of sciatica before you can effectively treat it.


Overview of Sciatica

Sciatica is a general term used to describe pain in one leg and the lower back. Sometimes this pain is mild, consisting of nothing more than a minor ache, while other times it’s more severe. Some people suffering from sciatica report a painful shock-like pain running from their lower back to upper leg. Even when it doesn’t cause pain, however, sciatica may create the sensation of pins and needles or tingling.

This condition is called “sciatica” because it involves the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve, the largest nerve in the human diameter (by diameter), runs from the end of the spinal cord to the thigh and knee. Like other nerves, it allows your brain to communicate with your body and vise versa. But neither the sciatic nor any other nerve is immune to injury. When the sciatic nerve is injured, it can trigger pain signals in the area where the nerve is located: the lower back and one leg.


Common Causes of Sciatica

There are several common causes of sciatica, the most common of which is a herniated spinal disc. Statistics show that up to 90% of all sciatica cases are the result of a herniated disc. Also known as a slipped disc, a herniated disc is a condition in which the soft, spongy material within a spinal disc begins to bulge out. As the material bulges out, it may press against the sciatic nerve, leading to the symptoms of sciatica.

Spinal stenosis has also been shown to cause sciatica. With spinal stenosis, the space in which your spinal cord runs becomes smaller and more narrow. As this space narrows, it places pressure on the sciatic nerve.

Even physical injury can cause sciatica. Motorists injured in car accidents, for example, may experience sciatica due to injury of their back. If a car accident slams you back against your seat — or back against any other surface — that trauma may injure the tissue surrounding your sciatic nerve, or it may injure the nerve directly. Either way, physical injuries like car accidents can cause or contribute to sciatica.



Avoid Prolonged Sitting

If you suffer from sciatica, you should avoid sitting for long periods of time. The University of Utah Health explains that prolonged sitting increases the risk of a herniated disc. And with disc herniation being the leading cause of sciatica, prolonged sitting can contribute to sciatica-related pain.

According to a recent study, adults spend an average of 21 hours a day being sedentary. This includes sleeping, driving and sitting. If you fall under this category, you need to engage in more physical activity to help reduce the pressure on your sciatic nerve. By staying physically active, you’ll reduce your risk of a herniated disc and promote a more naturally aligned spine that’s less likely to cause sciatica.


Manage Your Weight

Obesity is a key risk factor of sciatica. People who are overweight have more pressure placed against their spine and the surrounding nerves, including the sciatic nerve. A study cited by LIVESTRONG.com found that for every additional pound of body weight a person gains, he or she will have 4 pounds of extra pressure placed on their spine and nerves. If you are currently obese or overweight, make changes to your lifestyle to get back to a normal weight.

Here are some tips to help you lose weight:

  • Drink water and not sodas or other sugar-sweetened beverages.
  • Follow a diet that’s low in saturated fat, sodium and sugar.
  • Include more fruits and vegetables in your diet.
  • Choose whole grains rather than refined grains.
  • Exercise for 75 to 150 minutes weekly.
  • Eat smaller portions of food.
  • Keep a daily journal to track your weight loss progress.


Massage Therapy

Massage therapy is a safe, effective and drug-free way to treat sciatica. If muscle tightness in your lower back is pushing against your sciatic nerve, a professional massage therapist may be able to relieve the affected muscle or muscles. Furthermore, massage therapy promotes the release of endorphins in the body. As these natural chemicals are released, it masks the pain associated with sciatica. Just remember to inform your massage therapist of your condition beforehand. Otherwise, he or she won’t be able to target the right area using the right manipulation technique.


If you suffer from sciatica, contact us today. Atlanta Chiro and Wellness offers a variety of services that can help alleviate the symptoms of sciatica.

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