Sciatica Pain: 3 Ways to Ease the Condition

Sciatica pain can impair your ability to perform daily activities. Multiple factors can put you at risk of developing the condition.

Woman holding both sides of her lower back as she in stands in front of a pile of boxes

Sciatica pain describes pain that originates in the lower back and radiates down a person’s leg. A sciatic nerve injury, as well as compression, inflammation, or irritation in your lower back, can trigger mild to severe pain. In addition, these problems can also cause: 

  • Leg numbness 
  • Pain that worsens with movement 
  • Loss of bowel and bladder control 
  • Tingling sensation in the leg, foot and toes 
  • Weakness in the leg and foot muscle 

Here are the reasons behind sciatica pain, and 3 ways to help you move freely.

The Causes of a Sciatic Nerve Injury

Woman grimacing in pain as she holds the left side of her lower back while sitting at a desk
 Sitting for long hours is a risk factor for sciatica pain.

Certain factors can increase your risk of sciatic nerve injury or irritation. These include: 

  • Smoking  
  • Old age 
  • Having a weak core 
  • Living a sedentary lifestyle 
  • Being diagnosed with diabetes or osteoarthritis 
  • Being heavier than your ideal weight 
  • Performing work that requires heavy lifting 
  • Not using proper form when weightlifting 
  • Sitting at a desk for a prolonged duration

Physical trauma

Blunt force trauma is the result of an object or force striking the body. A person who encounters this on the lumbar spine or sciatic nerve can experience pain.

Herniated or slipped disc

This physical disorder stems from ageing wear and tear. Subsequently, it leads to the gel-like disc centre to bulge through its outer wall and press on a sciatic nerve. 

Degenerative disc disease

The above is a natural process of disc deterioration. It can result in herniation of the disc or osteoarthritis and the formation of bone spurs. A herniated disc and osteoarthritis induce spinal stenosis – a narrowing of nerve passageways in the spine – which puts pressure on the spinal cord and nerve roots that exit each vertebra.

Osteoarthritis and formation of bone spurs

Likewise, osteoarthritis can give rise to the formation of bone spurs – jagged bone edges – in ageing spines, compressing nerves in the lower back.

Spondylolisthesis

The common symptoms of spondylolisthesis are leg or lower back pain. It occurs when a vertebra slips onto the one below, producing spinal instability and applying undue pressure on the sciatic nerve.

Piriformis syndrome

This neuromuscular disorder refers to the involuntary constriction or tightening of the piriformis muscle – a small muscle in the glutes. Since the piriformis muscle is located directly on top of the sciatic nerve, it is likely to irritate it.

Environmental factors

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) states that damp-cold and damp-heat environments will aggravate sciatic pain. “Living in a wet environment for a long time, or getting drenched in the rain, or sweating in windy weather can lead to an invasion of wind and damp-cold. These conditions block the flow of blood and qi (vital energy) in the waist, legs and other parts of the body”, explains Eu Yan Sang physician Ignatius Ooi Yong Chin. 

Separately, long-term turbidity and the invasion and accumulation of damp-heat can flow into the bladder meridian, and provoke leg and lower back pain.

3 Ways to Achieve Sciatic Pain Relief

Two women performing yoga-inspired stretches on yoga mats while looking at a television
Stretching exercises can effectively suppress pressure on the sciatic nerve.

To recommend suitable treatment options, a clinical physician will analyse your medical history, do a physical examination, or order imaging tests. They may then suggest treatments that help decrease pain and improve mobility.

Medications

Over-the-counter medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen – can ease pain, inflammation and swelling. Prescription medications like cyclobenzaprine can calm the discomfort associated with muscle spasms.

A physician may also propose the use of tricyclic antidepressants and anti-seizure medications as pain relievers.

Physical therapy

The best way to alleviate the pain and swelling is to first use ice packs. Wrap these packs in a towel and apply to the affected area in 20-minute intervals, several times a day. Switch to a hot pack or heating pad to improve blood flow.

You may also integrate different exercises that reduce pressure on the sciatic nerve while achieving your fitness goals. Stretching routines, in particular, can enhance muscle flexibility in people with sciatica.  

Meanwhile, TCM practitioners will generally recommend acupuncture for the condition. However, acupoint massages alone will not be effective. “It can be combined with massage, bone setting, acupotomology, electroacupuncture, collateral pricking and cupping therapy as an auxiliary treatment”, says physician Ooi.  

Surgical procedures

A physician may advocate the use of spinal surgery if your pain does not lessen with medication and stretching exercises. Microdiscectomy is a minimally invasive procedure that removes herniated disc fragments that are pressing on a nerve. A laminectomy encompasses removing the lamina – the roof of the spinal canal – to increase the space for the spinal nerves and the pressure applied on the sciatic nerve. 

Sciatica pain should not go untreated. If you’re considering alternative physical modalities to support clinical treatment, speak to a TCM practitioner. Ultimately, take comfort in knowing that early intervention will allow for less pain and better mobility, especially if you’re consistent with your treatment regime.

References

  1. Cleveland Clinic. Sciatica.  [Accessed 15 February 2022]  
  2. Cleveland Clinic. Spondylolisthesis.  [Accessed 15 February 2022]  

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