Sciatica refers to pain that radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve, which branches from your lower back through your hips and buttocks and down each leg. Typically, sciatica affects only one side of your body.
What are the symptoms?
Pain that radiates from your lower (lumbar) spine to your buttock and down the back of your leg is the hallmark of sciatica. You might feel the discomfort almost anywhere along the nerve pathway, but it’s especially likely to follow a path from your low back to your buttock and the back of your thigh and calf. The pain can vary widely, from a mild ache to a sharp, burning sensation or excruciating pain. Sometimes it can feel like a jolt or electric shock. It can be worse when you cough or sneeze, and prolonged sitting can aggravate symptoms. Usually only one side of your body is affected. Some people also have numbness, tingling or muscle weakness in the affected leg or foot. You might have pain in one part of your leg and numbness in another part.
It’s not always possible to prevent sciatica, and the condition may recur. The following can play a key role in protecting your back: Exercise regularly. To keep your back strong, pay special attention to your core muscles — the muscles in your abdomen and lower back that are essential for proper posture and alignment. Ask your doctor to recommend specific activities. Maintain proper posture when you sit. Choose a seat with good lower back support, armrests and a swivel base. Consider placing a pillow or rolled towel in the small of your back to maintain its normal curve. Keep your knees and hips level. Use good body mechanics. If you stand for long periods, rest one foot on a stool or small box from time to time. When you lift something heavy, let your lower extremities do the work. Move straight up and down. Keep your back straight and bend only at the knees. Hold the load close to your body. Avoid lifting and twisting simultaneously. Find a lifting partner if the object is heavy or awkward.
What helps ease the problem?
To help relieve the stress around your sciatic nerve roots, get up and move around when your symptoms strike. To be proactive, try setting an alarm on your phone or computer to go off every half hour. When you hear the alarm, try to engage in one of the following activities:
• Take a short walk
• Stretch your hamstrings
• Complete 10 jumping jacks
Exercise is usually better for relieving sciatic pain than bed rest. Rest may be helpful for a day or two after sciatic pain flares up, but after that time period, inactivity will usually make the pain worse. Massage therapy can also help painful symptoms. The massage therapist will work on the lower back, hamstrings, and gluteal muscles to help alleviate pain.
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