If you have ever suffered from knee pain, you know how debilitating it can be. Knee pain can limit your movement, distract from work-life, and disrupt sleep.
Pain in the knees is a very common symptom, and can be caused by a range of medical problems. It is sometimes attributed to Sciatica, a condition regarding nerves in the lower back.
But what do nerves in your back have to do with your knees? And how related are these two seemingly separate problems?
Nerves and The Body
To begin to understand these connections, we must first understand the science of how nerves work within our body.
Nerves are cable-like fibers found throughout the body. They carry electrical signals to and from the brain and are responsible for our movement and senses.
Our nervous system is incredibly complicated. If a single nerve is irritated or damaged, it can cause the individual a frightening amount of pain.
What Is Sciatica?
Sciatica is a collection of symptoms felt when the sciatic nerve is irritated or compressed.
The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in our body. It begins as a series of roots around our spine, and collects into singular strands that run down each leg. These begin at the back of our pelvis, run through the buttocks, and down to each ankle.
Irritation of this nerve is most commonly caused by complications with the spine itself.
Symptoms of Sciatica
Most symptoms of sciatica are felt in one leg rather than both. They often consist of sharp, searing pains, tingling, and lack of feeling in the leg.
These can include:
- Mild to severe pain in the upper or lower legs.
- Pain or tingling in the lower back.
- Weakness of the leg or knee.
- Increases of pain due to jolts such as coughing or sneezing.
- Discomfort in the legs whilst sitting for an extended period of time.
In the most extreme cases people suffering from sciatica can find it difficult to stand or walk. Though for most people the pain is manageable, be it infrequent or constant.
Causes of Sciatica
The majority of sciatica cases are caused by a slipped disk in the back. Disks are layers of cartilage like material that cushion between spinal vertebrae. When this occurs, the disk can press on sciatic nerve and disrupt the signals travelling along it.
As you age, the disks in your spine become more flexible. Most cases will occur between the ages of 40-50.
Other less common causes of sciatica include:
- Spinal Stenosis; the constriction of nerve passageways in the spine.
- Impact based injuries and infections of the spine.
- Muscle strain.
- Body changes during pregnancy.
Sciatica itself is here clearly a series of symptoms masking one of many underlying problems.
Knee pain can be the result of various different injuries. However, most afflictions are caused by overuse, injury, or the wear of age. Though you may suffer from sciatica, there could be a number of different causes behind your knee pain.
Common conditions include:
– Sprains or strains of the muscles of the leg. These usually go away with rest.
– Anterior knee pain, which affects mainly the front or cap of the knee. These are caused by untreated past injuries, and are often easily remedied with rest, store bought painkillers, and ice packs.
– Damage to the menisci or cartilage of the knee. This can result from twisting the joint awkwardly. It can heal with rest but sometimes requires surgery.
– This predominantly affects people over 40 and is a natural symptom of age. It can result in the locking of the bones in the knee and swelling of the area. It is treatable with physiotherapy, though often leads to the use of walking aids.
– Tendonitis is a common problem for people who work physically demanding jobs. It is caused by the overuse and damage of the tendons connecting the knee to the shinbone. It can be managed with rest.
Knee Pain and Sciatica
Knee pain is often thought of as a self-contained issue. If pain is only felt in the knee, not the leg or lower back, then it is unlikely to be the result of sciatica. However, they can be closely linked.
The major factor here is that sciatica changes the way that we walk.
When we feel severe pain or weakness in one leg, we tend to shift our weight to the other. As sciatica is most likely to only affect one leg, this often becomes the case.
If we use one knee more than the other, or place more weight upon it, that knee will face a greater level of stress and wear.
Shifts in balance, gait, and posture caused by sciatica-based pain can accelerate previous, and often unnoticed, conditions within the knee.
Due to the age at which sciatica tends to affect us, we are already vulnerable from the natural deterioration and wear of the joint.
What is important to understand here is that sciatica is the symptom of problems in the back. While knee pain can be a symptom of sciatica. This interconnectedness can make it difficult to diagnose.
It is often difficult to prevent sciatica as our bodies wear down with age despite our best efforts. However, there are a number of steps we can take to stop this the acceleration of this wear.
- Adopting a better posture in places you are likely to spend a lot of time. This can be as simple as keeping your spine straight while working.
- If your job involves heavy lifting, make sure you keep the back straight and lift correctly.
- Regular exercise is always beneficial, however you must always stretch properly before and after.
- A firm mattress will also help. Keeping a straight spine during sleep can be invaluable to warding off sciatica.
There is no sure fire way to avoid sciatica. If you feel any of the symptoms, then visit your GP as soon as possible for further information.
Most sciatica cases will go away with rest within a period of 6-12 weeks. However, if symptoms continue to present themselves, here are some possible solutions:
- Physiotherapy, massage therapy, or osteopathy.
- Anti-inflammatory based painkillers.
- Epidural steroid injections are used only in the most extreme cases.
- Surgery could be required if the pain persists.
There are countless other remedies for sciatica, however you should always consult a GP before self-treatment.
Knee pain can be the result of a range of different issues, many of which have little or nothing to do with sciatica.
However, with sciatica mostly affecting people in later life, it can often exacerbate pre-existing conditions within the knee.
If you suffer from knee pain alongside one or more of the symptoms of sciatica, then it is likely the two are linked. To alleviate the stress on the knee, it is important that you see a medical professional for the treatment of your sciatica.