Sciatic pain, or 'sciatica', affects 10% to 40% of the population. Yet despite how often it's diagnosed in US citizens, it continues to be misunderstood by a considerable majority – including its sufferers.
This is largely because the name refers to a set of symptoms caused by underlying medical conditions as opposed to being a medical condition in its own right. Naturally, this means there are a wide variety of symptoms that patients typically suffer from, and an even greater variation of treatments to ease those symptoms.
So, to help you get the treatment you need, we've provided a guide on sciatica pain below. You'll also find the multiple forms of medication available to reduce pain and relieve stress.
What is sciatic nerve pain?
Sciatic nerve pain refers to a radiating pain (as well as an occasional burning sensation) that runs along the path of the sciatic nerve. This is a nerve that stretches from your lower back, through your hips and gluteal area, and down each leg, although the condition usually only affects one side of the body.
The pain may increase when you move, sneeze or cough and will usually improve over a period of 4-6 weeks. As the pain numbs the skin, you are advised not to use a hot water bottle or ice pack to ease the symptoms. That's because you may not feel the temperature and consequently damage your skin. Likewise, try not to sit or lie down for long periods even if moving hurts, as movement can improve your condition faster.
Bear in mind that the numbness should only affect the areas of the body surrounding the sciatic nerve. If you notice any numbness around your genitals or anus, call your doctor. Similarly, you should visit the hospital if you have considerable weakness or numbness in both legs.
What causes sciatica pain?
True damage to actual sciatic nerves is rare. Instead, the most common cause of sciatica pain is a herniated or slipped disk that causes pressure on the nerve roots. About 1% to 5% of all people in the US will have a slipped disk at one point in their lives. Disks are the cushioning pads between the vertebrae within the spine. Pressure from vertebrae can cause the gel-like center of a disk to herniate through a weakness in its outer wall. This bulge places pressure on the sciatic nerve.
Another common cause is degenerative disk disease, which is the natural wearing down of the disks between the vertebrae. This shortens their height and leads to the nerve passageways becoming narrower, which is what's known as spinal stenosis. This is a condition that pinches the roots as they leave the spine.
Finally, the last common condition that often results in nerve pain is a slippage of a vertebra so that it's out of line with the one above it, narrowing the opening through which the nerve exists.
Outside of these conditions, you're likely to experience nerve pain if you:
The weight you carry at the front of your body is what your spine has to lift. The more weight, the more your back muscles have to work. This causes strain on your spinal cord and can lead to sciatica.
Lack strong core muscles
The muscles of your back and abdomen provide support for your lower back. If they're weak, they leave your spine to do most of the work in terms of supporting your upper body.
Have a job that takes a toll on your back
Naturally, jobs that require heavy lifting may increase your risk of back problems. The same is true of jobs with prolonged sitting, provided you don't have the proper posture.
Suffer from diabetes
Diabetes increases your chance of nerve damage, consequently putting you more at risk of being affected by sciatica.
Nicotine in tobacco damages the spinal tissue, weakens bones and speeds the wearing down of vertebral disks.
Suffer from osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis can cause damage to your spine and put nerves at risk of injury.
Have suffered a previous injury
If you've experienced trauma to the lumbar spine or sciatic nerve, you may be susceptible to further injury.
While this list isn't exhaustive, they are the most common causes of sciatica and damage to other spinal nerves.
What are examples of sciatica pain relief?
Whatever the cause, treatment for sciatica-related lower back pain varies from physical therapy to sciatica exercises. You may still feel pain for the initial 4-6 weeks, but this can be addressed through common over-the-counter medicines known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These include aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, etc.) and naproxen (Naprosyn, Aleve, etc.).
While you are able to access these medications yourself, it's worth consulting your doctor beforehand. They're more aware of the current healthcare complications and best equipped to recommend pain medication that complements other medicine you may already be taking. They can also refer you to a physical therapist should you need additional support beyond pain relief.
If you're still suffering pain, your healthcare professional may recommend prescription medicine such as muscle relaxants. Cyclobenzaprine (Amrix, Flexeril, etc.) is prescribed to reduce the level of discomfort from muscle spasms. You may also be prescribed antidepressants and anti-seizure medication depending on your level of pain.
When should I seek professional medical advice?
As we mentioned above, it's always worth consulting your doctor before you take medication. Not only do they provide medical advice that's specific to your condition, but they're more aware of your body weight and can offer practical ways to relieve pressure on your back before you take powerful painkillers.
They may also be able to recommend an exercise program that's realistic for you to achieve without causing further injury. This may include exercises that allow you to lie flat on the floor with your legs straight and strengthen the muscles of your back, abdomen and legs.
Your doctor is also then able to monitor your progress and recognize when it may be time to try other solutions such as spinal injections and surgery. Surgery is not usually recommended unless your pain is worsening and you have severe weakness in your lower muscles.
Relieve your sciatica symptoms with Medix
At Medix, we have a range of medications to help improve your health and wellbeing. Not only can we address lower back pain with our over-the-counter medicine, but we can provide your prescription medication at an affordable price and deliver it to your door.
If you'd like to speak to a member of our customer service team regarding any of our medications, please call 1-866-500-6633 (toll-free phone number) or +44 1438 500111 (international phone number). Alternatively, submit your details through our contact form and we’ll be in touch.