Anyone who has had sciatica pain knows of the pain one can experience when the sciatic nerve is inflamed. Over 33 years as a chiropractor I have literally witnessed grown men cry due to such agonizing pain.
Sciatica is not a disease or a diagnosis in and of itself. Rather, it is a set or collection of symptoms, most notably pain, that may cause irritation to one or more nerves that comprise the sciatic nerve.
The sciatica pain may be felt just on the outside of the lower leg, in the lower back and buttocks, or perhaps in the back of the thigh. In severe cases, where there is much compression and/or inflammation, it can be felt along its entire course.
The sciatic nerve is the largest and longest of our nerves. It has its origin from nerve roots that exit the spine predominately between L4 through S3. These lumbar and sacral nerve roots merge together to form the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve travels from the lower back through the buttocks, down the back of the thigh, and into the leg and finally ends in the toes.
Depending on where the sciatic nerve is irritated will dictate where the pain and other symptoms are felt.
Typically, sciatica is rare before the age of 20 and seems to peak in middle age and then declines in incidence after the age of 55-60.
Both males and females can be effected. However, it is my experience that there is a greater incidence in the male population. This may be due to the fact that men are more likely to engage in occupational and sporting activities that are more strenuous and require heavy lifting.
Another reason why there may be a greater incidence in the male population is because men are on average taller than their female counterparts. It is believed that height may be a factor with respect to the lumbar disc being subjected to repetitive micro-trauma from bending, twisting and lifting motion(s).
The sciatic nerve can become compressed and inflamed for numerous reasons and treatment should not focus solely on pain relief. The underlying cause needs to be uncovered and identified. Once the cause is identified treatments should be 3 pronged.
First, the severe sciatica pain must be minimized. Simple activities of daily living can be drastically effected due to the severity of the sciatic pain. When severe it can make simple activities, such as standing, walking, sitting and performing everyday household activities unbearable.
When the sciatica pain reaches an excruciating level there is constant agonizing pain that can be unrelenting where even bed rest affords minimal or no relief.
Fortunately the pain of sciatica is not permanent and most individuals will recover within 3-12 weeks.
However a small percentage of sciatica victims will have some lingering pain and symptoms beyond that time frame.
You may suffer with one episode and never experience sciatica the rest of your life. Yet, the typical scenario is one of recurrent episodes with varying degrees of intensity and duration.
It is paramount that the cause of the sciatic pain be accurately discovered. Although rare, some sciatica can be caused by serious pathology.
One must guard against assuming that just because there exists the presence of a herniated disc that it is the primary cause. When in fact, there may be some other reason for the sciatica and the bulged disc is just an incidental finding.
Second, once the primary cause or reason for the sciatica is discovered, treatment should then be directed at correcting, eliminating or minimizing any of these factors. Failing to do so will only increase one's chances for recurrence or chronicity.
Also, neglecting to address the primary cause may also increase the likelihood that the sciatica may progress to a more serious nature that would require surgery. If identified early, proper treatment may help to avoid a surgical outcome.
The third prong when treating sciatica is prevention. This is where most physicians and patients drop the ball. It is the responsibility of your doctor to treat the pain and cause to the best of his ability. But, it is the patient's responsibility to do all that he or she can do to prevent its recurrence as well.
One must be an active partner in their care. If the sciatica sufferer is an overweight, inactive, unfit smoker and fails to take the steps to improve their overall health and fitness, then, in reality aren't they as much the real cause of their sciatica than anything else.