Everyone is familiar with the numb feeling that occurs in your leg after sitting for extended periods of time. This is similar to what people with sciatica experience, however with sciatica, the tingly, painful feeling does not go away. Sciatica nerve pain affects up to 40 percent of people at some point, according to data from Harvard Medical School.
While sciatica is very common, it’s also quite misunderstood. The misconceptions about sciatica can range from the definition to how it affects the body and the treatment options. Many people believe sciatica is a medical condition and don’t know that it is actually a symptom.
Sciatica is a symptom of different conditions and causes pain along the sciatic nerve. This nerve begins in the lower back and runs down through both legs into the buttock, thigh, calf, and foot.
Below are five things to know about sciatica pain:
1. Sciatica pain can occur in many places
The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body and pain can occur anywhere. This helps better understand why sciatica can effect so much of the body. Sciatica can impact the lower back, the buttock, go down to the knee or calf and even cause issues into the foot.
2. Sciatica can manifest in a wide variety of ways
Sciatica can affect multiple body parts and also present different sensations. For some it can cause numbness, muscular weakness and most commonly it causes pain. Regardless of how it manifests, sciatica can interfere with daily life and feel debilitating. In addition to the physical symptoms, it can affect your sleep and mood.
3. Anyone can experience sciatica
Sciatica symptoms can happen to people who are out of shape and well-trained athletes alike. A common misconception is that sciatica is a result from trauma such as an accident or herniated disc. Some people experience sciatica simply from sitting incorrectly at their desk or in their car seat. In addition, sciatica can arise from an injury, repetitive stress, a herniated disc or variety of other causes. While rare, it is also possible to experience sciatica from stenosis (narrowing) of the lower back, arthritis, spinal tumors or simply from a person’s physical anatomy.
4. A musculoskeletal specialist should be seen for medical attention related to sciatica
If you experience sciatica for three or more days or if it is interfering with daily activities, you should seek medical attention. Because sciatica can be so broad, it is critical to determine the root of the problem. It is recommended that patients consult with a medical professional who specializes in back and musculoskeletal conditions. The specialists can include chiropractors, physical therapists or orthopedists. An evaluation may include a simple orthopedic and neurological assessment or more complex diagnostic tools such as X-rays or MRIs.
5. Treatment options can vary
Treatments for sciatica can range from conservative, natural approaches (i.e. physical therapy or chiropractor visits) to more aggressive measures which can include injections or surgery. Most medical professionals recommended pursuing the less aggressive treatments first. Recovery times can vary widely regardless of the treatment approach. As an example, recovering from sciatica caused by a slipped disc can take a few months while a more simple issue may be resolved after a few physical therapy appointments. A common misconception is that once you develop sciatica, it is something you have to live with for the rest of your life. Fortunately, that is not true.