If you’ve ever experienced back pain, it’s likely that it was caused by a strain to a muscle or a ligament in your back. However, a backache that travels further down your body may be an indication that your pain is caused by your nerves. Sciatica is a form of nerve pain that affects the back, and it may feel a little different from a typical backache. While it may seem alarming to think that a nerve problem is causing your backache, sciatica is a common condition that can be treated. Read on to learn more about what sciatica is and what you can do if you have it.
What is Sciatica?
Sciatica is nerve pain that is caused by an injury or irritation to the sciatic nerve, which is a nerve that originates in your buttock/gluteal area.1 The pain from sciatica is caused by an irritation, inflammation, pinching or compression of the sciatic nerve.1 Although most nerves are smaller, the sciatic nerve is the longest and thickest nerve in the body.1 The sciatic nerve splits to form a right and left nerve, and each nerve runs through your hips, buttocks and down the leg on each side of the body.1 This is why sciatica pain can be felt below the back as well as in the lower back. Sciatica is a very common condition, and about 40% of people in the U.S. experience sciatica sometime during their life.1
What are the Symptoms of Sciatica?
The most well-known symptom of sciatica is pain that radiates from your lower spine to your buttock and down the back of your leg, but you might feel the discomfort almost anywhere along the nerve pathway.2 Sciatica pain can feel like a mild ache, a sharp, burning sensation or an excruciating pain that resembles an electric shock.2 Other commonly experienced side effects include numbness, tingling or muscle weakness in the affected leg or foot, and it’s possible to feel pain in one part of the leg and numbness in another.2 Although the sciatic nerve runs through both legs, sciatica usually occurs on one side of your body.1,3 Sciatica can affect both legs at once depending on where the nerve is being pinched along the spinal column.1
Mild cases of sciatica have the tendency to go away over time, so talk to a doctor if your pain is getting progressively worse or lasts longer than a week.2 If you are experiencing sudden, severe pain in your lower back or leg, muscle weakness in your leg, pain after a violent injury or trouble controlling your bowel movements, seek medical care to find further treatment options.2
What Causes Sciatica?
Many causes of sciatica include problems with the lower spine and the sciatic nerve.1 The most common cause of sciatica is a herniated or slipped disk that causes pressure on a nerve root.1 Sciatica can come on gradually or suddenly, depending on the cause.1 The sciatic nerve is so big, which leads to a number of different risk factors. Some risk factors for sciatica include:1
- Having an injury to your lower back or spine.
- Aging: The bone tissue and disks in your spine naturally wear down with time, which can increase the risk of pinched nerves. People between the ages of 30 to 50 are more likely to get sciatica.4
- Jobs: having a physical job that requires heavy lifting can put you at risk for lower back pain and sciatica.
- Smoking: nicotine can damage your spinal tissue and wear down your vertebral disks faster.
- Not exercising enough: A lack of exercise and movement of muscles will make your muscles soft and increase your risk of sciatica. Alternatively, weightlifting without following proper form can put you at risk for sciatica despite being physically fit.
- Diabetes: having diabetes increases your risk of nerve damage, which can lead to sciatica.
- Being overweight: your lower spine has more weight to support if you are overweight, which can contribute to spinal changes that can cause sciatica.1,2
How to Relieve Sciatica Pain
Thankfully, there are plenty of self-care treatments that you can do to help with sciatica pain. Approximately 80-90% of people with sciatica get better over time with self-care treatments.4 Motion helps reduce inflammation, so the best thing you can do is to be as active as possible and avoid resting for too long.4 Try stretching exercises and going for walks as soon as you can to keep your body moving. Sciatica pain is different for everyone, so it may help to find a physical therapist to work with you on customizing stretches and aerobic exercises that will help your condition.1 Other treatment methods that don’t involve physical activity include using gentle heat or cold pads on the areas of pain and taking NSAIDs like ibuprofen.4 Take over-the-counter medications like Advil Tablets for your sciatica pain to help you move comfortably again. Advil Tablets work to temporarily relieve minor aches and pains caused by conditions such as backaches and muscle aches.
Keep your sciatica pain under control by staying active and using effective treatment methods. Discover more ways to manage and avoid back pain, and visit the Advil Symptoms & Tips Hub for more helpful tips on finding pain relief.
- Sciatica. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/12792-sciatica Accessed 11/10/2021.
- Sciatica – Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sciatica/symptoms-causes/syc-20377435 Accessed 11/10/2021.
- Sciatica. Medline Plus. https://medlineplus.gov/sciatica.html Accessed 11/10/2021.
- Sciatica. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/sciatica/ Accessed 11/10/2021.