We all experience some form of leg pain at some point, but none of them are quite like sciatica.
There’s a reason for this: it’s an indication that something is irritating a nerve root in the lower back, which in turn, causes that irritating pain.
But since you clicked on this article, we’re sure you have certain questions such as:
How can I tell if I have sciatica?
Why is my sciatica not going away?
How can I relieve sciatica and back pain?
You’ve come to the right place. This article will answer all of those questions, with the help of physiotherapists Gorby Sangco and Resshaya Roobini.
How to test for sciatica
Before we go any further, there are two myths that we should address first:
Sciatica is neither a condition nor a diagnosis. It is a symptom that signifies that something is putting pressure on your nerves.
Not all leg pain is sciatica. According to Sangco, sciatic pain is described as “a tingling sensation and numbness from the back that runs all the way down on the leg”. The main reason for this sensation is the compromise of the sciatic nerve in the body.
An illustration of sciatic pain.
When it comes to leg pain, the first step is to observe the type of symptom you are experiencing, says Sangco.
“Is it localized on their back or does it radiate to the legs? Pain that radiates from the back down to the legs warrants further investigation which may or may not lead to a possible diagnosis of sciatic pain/sciatica,” he adds.
So, how do you know if you have sciatica? Here are three easy ways to find out.
Why is my sciatica not going away?
As mentioned earlier, sciatica is a symptom of a much bigger issue, which could potentially be:
Herniated or slipped discs: The most common cause of sciatica as the gel-like discs that cushion the spinal vertebrae are worn down by age, injuries or conditions such as degenerative disc disease.
Bone spurs: Otherwise known as small bone growths that develop near joints after bone damage. More common in people with osteoarthritis.
Physical trauma: Nerve damage, broken bones and herniated discs caused by traumatic events, accidents or even improper lifting techniques can pinch the sciatic nerve and cause pain.
Lumbar Spinal Stenosis: The narrowing of the spine canal, which causes the spinal nerves to become compressed and cause sciatica.
Spondylolisthesis: Common in older adults, athletes or people born with fragile spinal vertebrae, Spondylolisthesis is a spinal condition where one spinal vertebra slips over another, which compresses the nerve roots and leads to sciatic pain.
Pregnancy: 50 to 80% of women suffer from lower back and sciatic pain during pregnancy, depending on the weight of the growing child.
For some, the extent of sciatica is much more severe than others, says Sangco. These types need more time to heal. Some patients tend to neglect their symptoms since the conditions are still tolerable.
On top of that, sciatic pain is very common, with Sangco stating that one in eight of his clients suffers from this specific issue. Back pain is also so ubiquitous that the American Chiropractic Association stated that at least 80% of the population would have encountered it.
“Sciatica could last weeks to months depending on the severity of the case, the body’s reaction to treatment, and how early the patient underwent physiotherapy (physical therapy).
“My latest chronic sciatic case lasted for 8 months before he felt normal and went back to his previous activities!”
“Sleeping positions play a big role in alleviating or aggravating back pain,” says Roobini. “It’s important to ensure that your pillow is not too thick that it strains the neck when you are lying down.”
She also suggests placing additional support below the knees, such as a pillow, bolster, or rolled towel to keep the curve of your lower back while reducing stress to the spine.
“As an alternative, you can also try lying on your side with a pillow between your knees. The pillow between the knees keeps the hips, pelvis and spine aligned,” she adds.
Those who have a habit of sleeping on their abdomen can lead to or aggravate existing pain. This is due to the stress this position may place on the cervical spine (neck), explains Roobini.
“Modifying this position by tucking a pillow under the lower abdomen and pelvis will relieve any stress between spine discs.
“Those who are experiencing disc herniation of the spine are advised to sleep in a curled up fetal position. Simply tuck your knees towards the chest and curl your torso towards the knee.”
This position alleviates any pressure placed on the discs and opens up space between the spine. However, it’s also important to switch sides intermittently to avoid muscle imbalance or postural scoliosis.
What can I do to relieve sciatica and back pain?
Aside from the regular ice and hot compress, both physiotherapists agree that exercise can help decrease pain and improve mobility.
Here are a couple of suggestions:
Using a massage gun to manage sciatic pain and symptoms
Sangco is a big proponent of foam rolling or doing self-percussive treatment, and so is Roobini.
“Using a massage gun like the Hydragun on stiff tissues like the abdominal fascia, piriformis or hamstring muscle is my go-to advice to temporarily improve sciatic symptoms,” says Sango.
Roobini agrees and says, “Self-massaging the area would be a therapeutic pain relief measure. The Hydragun self-massage gun is an effective tool to not only relieve pain, but also improve blood circulation in the targeted areas which will speed up the healing process.”
How to use the Hydragun for sciatica
Attachment: Ball, fork, or flat head
Duration: 2 minutes
Guidelines: Massage the lower back area in a back and forth motion and do the same with the insertion of muscle fibers. Then, run the muscle along the entire lower back area.
If you suffer from sciatica pains, run the Hydragun from the top of your lower back down to the affected nerve in your leg for 30 seconds. You can also apply the Hydragun on your lower back, back of the affected thigh, and calves.
Take a look at the video below to see what chiropractor Dr Cody thinks about the Hydragun: