Sciatica, "I just don't know what to do with myself"
Posted on 11th October 2017 at 07:30
Having focussed on winter bugs for the last few weeks, you’ll be pleased to hear that we’re moving on to something completely different. And without a single mention of mucus, catarrh or snot (!) either. Sorry we just couldn’t resist it…
If you’ve been unlucky enough to suffer from it, you’ll know first hand just how painful and debilitating this problem is. One client summed it up perfectly by saying that she couldn’t sit, couldn’t stand, could just about lay down – but couldn’t then get up – and really didn’t know what to do with herself.
And, from personal experience, we’d say she’d got it right. Although, having said that, we’d add that it’s virtually impossible to get out of the car after a drive of more than a few minutes without resorting to a crowbar…
So what are we talking about this week?
Sciatica, the inflammation of the Sciatic Nerve.
To the uninitiated this doesn’t sound like much of a problem. But what if we told you it was the largest and longest spinal nerve in the body? That it runs from the base of the Back on each side, down through the Buttocks and into the back of each Thigh; then all the way down each Leg to the Feet.
Not only does it carry nerve signals to and from the muscles – and skin – of the Legs and Feet; but sensations too. It controls the movement of the Legs and also plays an important part in our sense of balance, as well as how “strong” our Legs feel. In other words do they feel strong and supportive; or weak, as though you’re about to fall over?
What causes Sciatica?
Quite simply a Lower Back problem, which then presses on the Sciatic Nerve causing irritation and inflammation. And, if you’ve ever suffered from Sciatica, you’ll know that irritation sums things up very well (!).
There are many different things which can trigger Sciatica. The two most common are a Lower Back injury or one of the discs between the Vertebrae bulging, so that the Vertebrae presses on the nerve. The latter is often referred to as a slipped disc, but this is not strictly true as the disc tends to bulge out – or herniate – rather than slipping out at the sides.
Other less common causes include degeneration of the lumbar discs, Arthritis and Spinal Stenosis. Since these are all structural issues they often to lead to Sciatica on an ongoing basis.
And what about those irritating symptoms?
Symptoms vary hugely from person to person and tend to be on one side only. They include:
• Constant acute pain, making it very uncomfortable to sit down.
• Numbness and tingling sensations down the Leg, which is often felt to be worse in one particular location, such as the side of the Thigh, calf muscle or Foot. This location acts as a signpost to where the Sciatic Nerve is actually being irritated and so what the most likely cause may be.
• A feeling of weakness in the Leg making it difficult to walk or stand.
• There may also be Lower Back pain, which goes down into the Buttocks as well.
Sitting makes things worse, as does sneezing or coughing. Interestingly, cooler damp weather often plays a part, hence us tending to see it more during the change from Summer to Autumn and Spring to Summer.
What can you do about it?
The conventional approach focuses on painkillers, anti inflammatories and physiotherapy. While this can help in the short term, it’s equally important that steps are taken to address the underlying cause and so prevent a reoccurrence in the future.
Not surprisingly, some hands on treatment to deal with the underlying cause is usually recommended, with Acupuncture and gentle manipulation both being very useful. Homeopathic remedies can also help to provide some additional support alongside.
As always, there are lots of things you can do at home to help.
While you may not feel like it, keeping active will make a huge difference. Gentle walking and stretching really do help. Avoid sitting but, if you have to, keep it for as short a time as possible. If you want a rest then lay down on the floor or a firm bed, not forgetting to put a hot water bottle or heat pad under your lower Back. And don’t forget to keep your Knees bent – or put a cushion under them – to take the pressure off your lower Back.
There’s also a gentle stretch that really helps. Lay on your back with your Knees bent and gently hug one Knee to your Chest for a few seconds and then the other. Make sure you gently lower each Foot to the floor and don’t let it drop down, which jars your Back.
If this feels ok, you can then hug both Knees to the Chest while rocking gently from side to side. These simple stretches help stretch and release the muscles in the lower Back, so reducing the pressure on the Sciatic Nerve. Doing this several times a day will make a real difference.
A soak in a warm – not too hot – bath with Epsom Salts can also help. Not only is it soothing, but the warmth boosts the circulation, while the magnesium in the salts helps reduce muscle spasms and soreness.
A hot water bottle – or heat pad – on the lower Back can also help release the area and so reduce pain and soreness.
Devil’s Claw, a herbal tincture, is a natural anti inflammatory and also helps with pain relief. It can be safely taken in both the short and long term.
Our old friend, ginger tea, can also help as it’s both warming and soothing to muscles. Don’t forget to make it with fresh ginger to get the full benefits.
And, while we’re on the subject of fluids (!), dehydration will only make things worse; particularly cramps and pain. You may not feel like drinking water – or herb teas – but it’s really important that you keep well hydrated.
Longer term, it’s important that long periods of times aren’t spent sitting – whether in the office, at home or in the car. Sitting shortens muscles in the Back, so making a repeat of the Sciatica – and lower Back problems generally – more likely. In addition, sitting – and sedentary lifestyles in general – are now being linked to many longer term health conditions.
Finally, it’s also a good idea to make sure that your bed really does support your back and isn’t too soft. Similarly, that the chairs you use at home and at work have lumbar support to help your Back.
As always, it’s the simple things you do each day that can really make a difference, not only now but in the future.
The choice is yours.
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