Sciatic leg pain is nothing but shooting pain that originates in the lower back and then radiates into the leg along the path of the sciatic nerve. The most common cause for this type of pain is nerve compression caused by disc herniation, muscle strain or a bone spur. Sciatic pain typically improves with conservative home remedies, rest and exercise.
The sciatic leg pain may either be acute or chronic.
Acute Sciatic leg pain is when there is sudden onset of pain and this tends to heal within a few weeks. The severity of the pain is directly related to the amount of tissue injury.
Chronic Sciatic leg pain is when the pain persists for over three months and the source isn’t very easy to be determined. This might be a constant or an intermittent pain which might tend to worsen over time. Chronic pain is typically caused by nerve damage, tissue scarring, arthritis or mental effects of pain.
The pain usually originates from the lower back and travels down the back of the thigh and sometimes into the calf and foot along the path of the sciatic nerve. It affects either of the legs but not both together. The severity ranges from mild to severe and is most painful in the legs. The pain is normally accompanied by weakness, numbness and/ or a tingling sensation.
In rare cases, this condition might result in extreme leg weakness with loss of bowel and bladder function. This is called the clauda equina syndrome and is considered to be a medical emergency.
Sciatic leg pain maybe caused by a number of conditions that pinch or irritate the sciatic nerve.
Tightening or spasm of the piriformis muscle can compress the nerve.
An injury during a sport or fall can fracture the spine or tear a muscle and damage the nerves.
The intervertebral disc may bulge or herniate and cause nerve compression.
Narrowing of the spinal canal might result in increased pressure on the spinal cord and nerves.
As a part of the natural ageing process, the intervertebral discs may dry out and shrink. The cartilages may dry out and as a result Bone spurs may arise or the facet joints may enlarge.
A weakness or stress fracture in the facet joints may cause the vertebra to slip out of position and compress the nerves.
Leg pain may also be caused by a joint problem in the hip or sacroiliac joint. This is typically called the referred pain and is also quite common.
The treatment process normally starts with conservative home care which involves rest, ice/heat therapy, therapeutic massage, over the top analgesics and an exercise routine.
Sciatic pain can be extremely painful and limit your daily routine to a large extent. While it is natural to rest for the initial couple of days, it is essential to try and become active as soon as practically possible to speed up the healing process. Too much inactivity will weaken the muscles and will only lead to more pain whereas, activity however minimal it might be, will help with flexibility. Over time, exercises must be incorporated to the daily routine to build endurance and strengthen the spine and the core muscles. A good physical therapist will be able to customize an exercise regime considering the patient’s comfort level. He/she will also advice proper lifting and walking techniques that will help deal with pain.
A lot of patients also find immense relief with Ayurveda, Panchakarma treatments and Yoga. Even though they might not provide immediate pain relief like pain killers, these are holistic healing techniques that help heal the body and mind holistically with zero side effects and are hence hugely popular.
Very few patients who find no relief with any of the conservative treatments are advised surgery as a last resort when the pain becomes incapacitating and greatly impacts their quality of life.