The sciatic nerve, also know the ischiiatic nerve, is a major player in the functioning of lower extremities. It is the largest nerve in the body that runs from the bottom of the spine through the buttocks and down the back of the leg. The sciatic nerve connects the nervous system to the skin and muscles of the leg and back of the thigh. It is responsible for the control of the muscles in the back of the knee, lower leg as well as the sole of the foot.

Sciatica is a painful condition that develops when the sciatic nerve becomes inflamed. This pain usually occurs only on one side of the body.

Common symptoms of Sciatica:

  • Pain that ranges from a mild ache to intense discomfort in the lower back, hip area, back of the thigh, down the leg or into the foot
  • Burning, tingling sensations or shooting pains down the leg
  • Discomfort in the buttocks or leg that is made worse with sitting
  • Weakness or numb feeling in the affected area that can result in issues with leg or foot movement

NOTE: More severe cases of sciatica can cause permanent nerve damage if not treated. Seek medical advice if you experience any weakness, loss of sensation in the affected leg or are noticing impairment in bowel or bladder functions.

How Does Sciatica develop? 

Sciatica develops when the root of the lower lumbar or spine becomes irritated and pinches the sciatic nerve. This can happen due to:

  • herniated disk or disk disease that breaks down the spinal cushioning between vertebrae
  • bone spurs on the spine.
  • spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal)
  • spondylolisthesis ( vertebra moves in front of another vertebra)
  • pregnancy

The risk factors that support the development of sciatica:

  • Being overweight
  • Lack of exercise
  • Sleeping on too soft a mattress
  • Having a job that twists the back, requires carrying heavy loads or sitting for prolonged periods of time
  • Diabetes increases the risk of nerve damage

How is sciatica treated? Can massage support?

While sciatica in its milder forms usually heals on its own within a couple of months, there are treatments that can shorten this time and alleviate the discomfort.

Regular massage stimulates the release of endorphins, dopamine and serotonin which calm nerves, promote healing, and provide natural pain management, as well as encourage greater mobility.

Low-impact exercise (yoga, stretching, walking, water exercises or riding stationary bike) can also help healing and support strengthening of back, abdomen and leg muscles

Use of pain medications such as muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatories can reduce discomfort. Injections of cortisone might be necessary in more severe cases.

Surgery may be necessary when pain is severe and symptoms are not relieved by other means.

Prevention is a powerful treatment too: There are steps you can take to help prevent sciatica that can strengthen your body and improve nerve health.

  • Commit to a regular exercise program that includes focus on keeping core muscles strong.
  • Pay attention to proper posture when sitting. Ensure there is adequate lower back support and keep your knees and hips aligned to avoid undue twisting of the spine.
  • Be cautious and supportive of demands placed on your body by long periods of standing, or lifting heavy loads. Shift your weight frequently while prolonged standing or find a partner to help you lift heavy packages.

By pro-actively taking care of your health through regular massage, exercise and conscious movement, sciatica’s symptoms can be minimised and healed.

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