Rooted in your lower back, your sciatic nerve is the longest and thickest nerve in your body, consisting of five nerve roots: Two in the lumbar spine, and three in the final section of the spine called the sacrum. These nerve roots come together to form sciatic nerve branches on your right and left sides that run through each hip, extend down each leg, and reach into the sole of each foot.
Your sciatic nerve gives you the ability to feel and control your lower body. If sciatic nerve pain — also known as sciatica — has ever stopped you in your tracks, you’re not alone: About two in five adults (40%) in the United States experience sciatica at some point in their lives.
As pain management experts who specialize in providing long-term sciatica relief, our skilled team at Neuropathy and Pain Centers of Texas wants you to know what you can do to alleviate the problem and prevent its recurrence.
Basic facts about sciatica
While sciatic nerve root irritation begins as general lower back pain or discomfort, it can quickly become severe and disabling pain as it radiates down the back of your leg, reaching into your calf or as far as your foot.
Common causes of sciatica include:
- Bone spur
- Herniated disc
- Lumbar stenosis
- Piriformis syndrome
- Chronically poor posture
- Degenerative spinal changes
Sciatica usually affects just one side of your body. It may produce deep radiating pain, a mild burning sensation, or a sharp, electric-like jolt. Some people experience numbness and tingling along with muscle weakness in the affected hip and leg. It can also cause pain in one part of your leg and numbness in another area.
Preventing sciatica flare-ups
While the right care can help most people recover fully from sciatica, the problem can recur. To protect your back, we recommend that you:
1. Don’t sit too much
Just as a sedentary lifestyle is a key risk factor for sciatica, and just as existing sciatica tends to worsen after long stretches of sitting, inactivity and prolonged sitting can readily lead to sciatica recurrence. This is especially true if you have poor posture (i.e., slouching, hunching, forward head posture) when you’re seated.
If your job or daily life is mostly sedentary, choose a chair that provides good lumbar support, or sit on a stability ball at your desk to reduce pressure on your lower back, engage your core, and keep your feet flat on the floor. Take regular breaks — get up, stretch your legs, and move your body every 20 minutes or so.
2. Stretch every day
During a sciatica flare-up, the right physical therapy stretches can go a long way in helping you open your lower back, take pressure off your sciatic nerve root, and ease your pain. Continuing these simple stretches can go a long way in keeping the problem at bay.
3. Practice good posture
Good posture is the foundation of good health and pain-free mobility. Slouching, slumping, and hunching create imbalances in your musculoskeletal system, stressing your spine and making it more vulnerable to misalignments and degeneration. But just as poor posture can set the stage for sciatica, good posture can protect against it.
Good, “neutral spine” posture means keeping your head level, your ears over your shoulders, your chest lifted, your shoulders back and relaxed, and your core actively engaged.
4. Get regular exercise
Lack of regular physical activity leaves you with inflexible, imbalanced muscles and a weak core (the inner scaffold of supportive abdominal and back muscles). Whereas your chest and upper back have your ribcage for extra support, core muscles are the only thing supporting your lower back and lumbar spine.
Getting at least 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise most days of the week helps you stay strong, toned, fit, and flexible — and keeps sciatica at bay. Even better, physical activity can help you maintain a healthy body weight, which helps take pressure off your lower back and protects your sciatic nerve.
5. Avoid “overdoing it”
Your sciatica may act up if a sudden increase in physical activity stresses your back; it may also reappear if you lift something heavy without using proper body mechanics.
To avoid sciatica recurrence, increase your activity levels gradually, and always lift heavy objects with your legs — hold the load close to your body, and never lift and twist at the same time. Better yet, find someone else to help you move heavy or awkward items.
Ready to resolve sciatica?
If sciatica recurrence is a problem for you, our expert team can help you attain long-term relief. Call or click online to schedule an appointment at your nearest Neuropathy and Pain Centers of Texas office in Fort Worth, Arlington, Waco, or Wichita Falls, Texas.