What is Sciatica and how can I help alleviate the pain?
Sciatica is a range of different symptoms caused by the compression or irritation of the root of the Sciatic nerve. The medical terminology is Lumber Radiculopathy. The Sciatic nerve is the largest/longest nerve in the human body and at its widest point can be as thick as your thumb.
The Sciatic Nerve has 3 main jobs which are providing motor function to the hamstrings and hip adductors, indirect motor function to the calf muscles, interior lower leg and some of the foot muscles and finally providing indirect sensation to the posterior and lateral lower leg and the sole of the feet.
The nerve is technically made up from 5 nerve roots from Lumber 4 & 5, and Sacral 1, 2, & 3, they then form the nerve that runs down the whole of your leg down into your feet. When the nerve as been irritated or compressed the following symptoms may occur:
- Weakness in the leg or foot
If the nerve root in L5 is compressed or irritated then you would likely to feel weakness and pain in the foot, where as the nerve root S1 is more associated with pain down the back of the thigh.
Sciatica can affect anyone, but it is more common in people who are in their 40’s or older, or people whose jobs require them to move their bodies into physically awkward positions .
The usual conditions which cause sciatica are Lower back issues such as:
- Slipped disc – this is when part of the disc which is the soft cushioned tissue between the vertebra is pushed out from the spine.
- Spinal stenosis – this is when the areas of the spine that the nerves travel through start to narrow
- Spondyloisthesis – this is when one of the vertebra slips out of position in the spine
- General injury to the lower back area
To help cope with the symptoms of a Sciatica flare up, here are some tip of what to do and not do.
- Carry on your normal daily activities as much as possible
- Keep up with regular exercise
- Keep moving
- Heat packs on areas of pain (making sure you don’t burn yourself)
- Using a tennis ball to gently massage the area of pain – making sure you are not inflicting more pain as areas can be sensitive.
- Place a small, firm cushion between your knees when sleeping on your side or several firm pillows underneath your knees when lying on your back (see examples of cushions between knees (white) or if sitting at the computer try using a cushion to help support your lumber region for sitting (purple).
- Do not sit or lie down for long periods of time – even is moving about is uncomfortable, being static can stiffen your muscles up and make it harder to move around later
If the pain has not reduced or gone away within a few weeks, then its recommend that you see your GP, as they will be able to refer you to a physiotherapist or help recommend pain management medication.
As a way to help control or prevent any further flare ups from the sciatic nerve you can make sure you you try to:
- Stay active – with regular exercise, even if this a a walk around the block
- If you have to lift anything heavy make sure you are not putting extra strain on the lower back
- Watch your posture both standing and sitting , try to keep your back upright and don’t slouch
- If using a computer make sure you are sitting correctly (see pervious blog post about posture)
- Try to loose weight only if you are overweight
If you are looking for some suggestions on what kind of exercises you can be doing to help with sciatica. Have a look at this link which shows you some exercises that can possibly help with sciatica. As with any form of exercise if it is causing you more pain, then stop, as you only want to start to feel the stretch and not cause further pain or discomfort.
Massage can be a great way to help ease the pain and discomfort which sciatica brings with a flare up. The massage can work on 2 different levels, first being helping with relaxation of the muscles which have tensed up. When the muscles tense up they can then place pressure on the nerves that run through the muscles and cause irritation or impingement to the nerve, therefore by relaxing the muscles will in turn release the nerve. The second way massage can help is by massaging the soft tissue of the muscles the action releases the bodies own endorphins which give the body a boost of pleasure, release natural pain killer and increase an overall wellbeing effect.
In 2014 a clinical study was carried out which showed that a 30 minute deep tissue massage five days a week for 2 weeks was effective at helping with lower back pain and sciatica.
Some woman during pregnancy develop sciatica as the baby can move around and putting pressure onto the sciatic nerve, but between 50 – 80% experience lower back pain rather than actual sciatica. If you do suffer with lower back or sciatic pain during pregnancy, massage is a great way to get some relief from the discomfort. Always check if the therapist is actually trained in pregnancy massage (Sandra at Essential Thyme is qualified), you will be supported with lots of pillows and cushions while you are lying on your side, sitting or standing whichever position you are comfortable in. Alternately pregnancy yoga can also help to stretch out and lower back or sciatic discomfort.
If you would like to see if Massage could possibly help you with symptoms of sciatica or any other conditions, please contact Sandra at Essential Thyme to discuss how it could help you and to book an appointment, or if you are interested in learning how to deliver any of the massage courses offered by Essential Thyme Training