Shooting or burning pain traveling down one side of the body is a telltale sign of neuralgia. When the nerves are damaged, misfire, or have improperly healed, they can continue to send signals of pain traveling through the body despite no other apparent signs of injury.
Yet there are also injuries and conditions that cause nerve pain without obvious outside signs. Nerve impingements can occur when ligaments swell, or tissue inflames. Tumors and swollen discs alike can cause nerve compression throughout the back, leading to malfunctioning spinal nerves, and resulting nerve pain. In such cases, a doctor’s only hint from the outside is how the patient reacts to a physical exam.
Sciatica is one such example of nerve compression, caused by the compression of the nerve roots of the sciatic nerve, the longest nerve in the human body.
Signs and Symptoms of Sciatica
While not necessarily a condition in itself, sciatica describes a common list of symptoms experienced as a result of lumbar radiculopathy – a condition wherein the nerve roots along the lower portion of the spine are compressed, usually by herniated spinal discs.
The result is weakness, numbness, and pain running down the leg, through the buttock and thighs. This pain is often unilateral, as the sciatic nerve runs separately on both sides of the body, and it’s usually one side that is affected more than the other. Other signs and symptoms of sciatica include:
- Varying pain. It may be burning and sharp, or come in the form of a mild ache.
- Severity changes with posture. Some movements and postures are more painful than others.
- Worse in the mornings. Sciatica is often much worse after waking up from a long rest.
- Tingling all the way down to the foot. Sciatica can cause reduced feeling, as well as loss of strength.
Sciatica can range in severity and seriousness. Most cases of sciatica go away on their own. They are often the result of an aggravated injury. For example, following a sprained back or heavy lifting session, an inflamed or herniated disc can cause sciatica symptoms to appear for a few weeks, before receding.
Not all cases of disc herniation or disc degeneration will lead to sciatic pain. In fact, many cases of spinal disc damage are asymptomatic – until they aren’t. Let’s go over a few effective ways of managing sciatic pain until it recedes.
Take Advantage of Heat and Cold
Heat and cold are a classic tips for pain, especially pain related to inflammation and strain. Most cases of sciatica are caused by a herniated or inflamed spinal disc, the tissue found between every vertebra in the spine.
This cushion is composed of a solid outer shell and a softer center, and excessive physical stressors can cause the inside to leak, compressing the surrounding nerves.
Regulating heat and cold can not only help speed up the recovery process in the spine but can reduce pain. Ice packs are particularly effective for reducing pain during sudden flare-ups. Heating pads are better for reducing aching pains after the first week of pain. Where the ice reduces inflammation, the heat is conducive for blood flow and better healing. In other words, the cold shocks the pain away, the heat promotes recovery.
There are many ways to apply cooling and heating to the sciatic nerve. Avoid placing anything hot or cold in direct contact with the skin for long periods of time – instead, wrap your cooling or heating conduit in a damp cloth to conduct the temperature without burns or frostbite. Try to primarily apply the cold or heat on the lower back.
Stretch It Out
Static and dynamic stretches can be an effective way to reduce pain in the long term, by way of promoting healing and blood flow and introducing natural painkillers in the body. But there’s a time and place for everything. The capacity for stretching to help promote healing after a sciatic flareup is limited to the kind of stretches used, and the time when they’re applied.
Try to get a referral from your doctor to see a physical therapist for stretches and warm-up exercises that are realistic and helpful for your given level of physical fitness and ability. An athlete with a back injury will need a different recovery plan from a sedentary retiree falling off a stepladder. Warmup and stretching volume and exercise frequency are just two major factors that will differ between individuals.
Get Your Steps In
In addition to stretching, do not underestimate the value of a brisk walk. Whether it’s around the block in the afternoon or through the woods, getting at least two or three good walks in per week can help promote healing and produce an analgesic effect.
Bed rest, while helpful, should be used sparingly when dealing with sciatic pain. Staying in bed too long or too often can make things a lot worse. Keeping your muscles lightly engaged with long walks, on the other hand, will help your body recover.
Use Painkillers Sparingly
Heat, cold, stretches, and a little movement can go a long way towards reducing flare-ups and improving recovery. But medication can help, too. Consult your doctor about your analgesic choices and safe weekly dosages. Non-opioid analgesics, from NSAIDs to paracetamol, can bring some relief.
Reconsider Your Sleeping Habits
Too much bed rest is not good for sciatic pain. But how you rest can also affect your recovery. Certain sleeping postures are better or worse for your sciatica than others. While many people struggle to change the way they sleep, you can reduce your morning pain by:
- Putting a pillow between your knees if you sleep on your side, or;
- Put a pillow under your legs if you sleep on your back.
- Avoid sleeping on your stomach!
A mattress change, while usually very expensive, can be a worthwhile investment if you suffer from chronic sciatic pain. Talk to your doctor about orthopedic mattresses and pillows, and ones that might specifically suit your needs.
When to See Your Doctor
Not all sciatic pain can be managed at home. It is critical to call your doctor or get yourself into urgent care if:
- You have lost control over your bladder or bowels.
- Have trouble walking and have lost control over your leg.
- Your pain is severe.
- Sciatica is accompanied by nausea.
- Your sciatica is accompanied by a fever.
When sciatic pain rears its ugly head and begins to affect your day-to-day, pain relief becomes important. Unmitigated chronic pain is not only a sign of something more serious than a passing sciatic episode, but can impact your livelihood, your relationships, and your mental health.
Contact PMIR today to learn more about Sciatica Relief.