If you’ve experienced pain originating from the lower back and shooting down your leg, it is probably a result of damage to the sciatic nerve.
The spinal nerves from L4 to S3 are what forms the sciatic nerves. The nerve branches divide and runs down the back of each leg and each nerve further divides to form the peroneal and tibial nerves controlling the feeling and function of the legs and feet.
Causes of Sciatic Leg Pain
Generally, the shooting pains generating from the sciatic nerves are caused by some sort of damage to the nerve.
It can be from trauma to the back, the development of bone spurs or a herniated disc putting pressure on the nerve or from muscle strain. Sciatic leg pain is usually classified as acute or chronic.
Acute Sciatic Leg Pain
Acute leg pain usually comes on suddenly and it can last from a few days to several weeks.
The severity of the pain is directly related to the type and the amount of damage done to the surrounding tissue.
The pain can come from one of several areas, including spinal joints, the nerves, muscles, discs or ligaments.
Chronic Sciatic Leg Pain
Chronic pain is usually felt all of the time on some level and it may feel worse during activities. Pain is considered chronic if it has persisted for more than three months.
Chronic pain may result from damage to the sciatic nerves, tissue scars,arthritis or it can be the result of how it affects the mind.
Chronic pain sufferers are often referred to a pain management specialist.
Symptoms Associated with Sciatic Leg Pain
The most common symptoms associated with sciatic leg pain start in the lower back and move down the leg, sometimes as far as the calf or foot.
The pain in the leg is almost always worse in the leg than it is the back and it may feel like a burning sensation, shooting pain or an ache in the back and leg.
Some activities can make the pain feel worse, such as sitting, because of the pressure being exerted on the discs of the spine.
Some people may experience weakness in the legs or possibly foot drop, which can cause your foot to slap against the ground when you walk because you cannot lift it properly.
Many times, these problems are accompanied with numbness or tingling in the affected leg.
Activities that exert pressure on the spine can make the symptoms feel worse, such as sitting or standing for longer periods of time, but running or walking may feel better.
Causes of Sciatic Leg Pain
Sciatica is the result of irritation or compression of the sciatic nerve and may be the result of:
Trauma –An injury to the spine or the muscles caused by a fracture or participating in some activities can damage the nerve.
Herniated Disc – A disc located between the vertebra of the spine can rupture or bulge and put pressure on nerves.
Osteoarthritis – Damage to the discs in the spine due to age can make them tear, causing pain and the formation of bone spurs can also occur.
Spinal Stenosis – The canal where the spinal nerve is located can narrow and compress the nerve or spinal cord.
Piriformis Syndrome –Spasms or tightening of the piriformis muscle, which is located near the spine in the buttocks, can compress nerves.
Spondylolisthesis – This condition occurs when the facet joints, which are the joints in the spine that allow for flexibility, become weak or a fracture causes a vertebra to slip and compress nerves.
Treatments for Sciatic Leg Pain
There are many treatments for sciatic leg pain, but which is used will depend on what is causing the pain.
A medical examination will be done and diagnostic imaging, such as a CT scan or a MRI, may be ordered to help correctly diagnose the cause of the pain.
Once a diagnosis has been made, one or more of the following treatments may be prescribed.
You can treat sciatica at home by resting, relaxing, applying heat or ice to the affected area, getting massages, doing light stretches and taking pain relievers.
When the muscles are inflamed, you will want to use ice packs to reduce it by applying them for about 20 minutes several times a day for the first 48 to 72 hours.
Afterwards, warm baths or showers can help relax the muscles. Do not overdo bed rest as it can cause more harm than good and consult with your doctor if taking care of the pain on your own doesn’t help.
Both over-the-counter drugs, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, NSAIDS, may be used to help reduce the pain associated with sciatica.
Aspirin, naproxen or ibuprofen may be suggested. Your doctor may also prescribe a muscle relaxant to help ease muscle spasms.
For severe pain, your doctor may also prescribe an analgesic drug that can be taken with muscle relaxers or NSAIDS.
In addition, steroids may be used to help ease the pain by relieving the swelling and inflammation of the nerves.
Epidural or facet steroid shots may be prescribed for severe pain, which will be relieved within 24 hours of having an injection.
Your doctor may prescribe physical therapy in order to reduce pain and get youback to your normal activities as soon as possible.
The physical therapist will show you exercises to help strengthen your leg, back and stomach muscles.
They may also recommend massage therapy, ultrasound and show you how to use heat to relieve pain. In addition, yoga, chiropractic care and acupuncture can help as well.
As with any condition, surgical options are often the last resort to improve pain.
However, surgery may be necessary to remove a herniated disc, help with muscle weakness or to relieve the compression on the nerve due to spinal stenosis.
It can also help those with pain that isn’t being resolved with non-surgical methods.
Each treatment option should be considered carefully before choosing one that best suits your needs.