The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body. It has its roots in the bottom of the back, and runs downward into the thigh. Sciatic nerve pain can therefore manifest as pain in the lower back, buttocks, hips, thighs, or knees. Sciatic nerve pain, also known as Sciatica, can often be confused with other forms of pain, especially back pain. If the pain is related to the sciatic nerve, it will most likely be strongest in the lower back, and spread downwards, possibly as far as the feet. This pain is often associated with a numb or tingling feeling, and usually affects one side more than the other.
Sciatic nerve pain is usually caused by pressure being put on the sciatic nerve itself. There are a number of things that can cause extra pressure on the nerve, such as a herniated disc, infection, injury, swelling of another body part, or a curved spine. It becomes more common as we reach middle age, but also affects pregnant women as the womb pushes up against the nerve.
In most cases, sciatica can be diagnosed with a physical examination. MRIs may sometimes be used to find the exact cause of the pain. In many cases, the problem will go away with time, and so treatment will focus on alleviating symptoms.
Physiotherapy can help ease sciatic nerve pain by exercising and relaxing your muscles. As with any medical condition, there will be variations for every case, but working with a physiotherapist can help you understand the causes of your pain better and help design a regimen that will help reduce the pain and deal with the problem over time. Many of these exercises, such as stretches, can be done at home, but it is important to meet with your physiotherapist to ensure that you are doing the correct exercises, and doing them properly. Improper exercising could exacerbate the issue. Your physiotherapist may also suggest certain postures, such as sleeping or sitting postures, or postures for carrying out tasks such as lifting. These can help not only to address the current problem, but also to prevent it from recurring in the future.
There are a number of things that you can and should do at home to help ease the discomfort. First and foremost is to avoid sitting for extended periods of time. In some cases, you may actually need to avoid standing more than sitting, but unless told otherwise by your physiotherapist, avoid sitting for too long and opt for lying down where possible.
Wallets, phones, or other similar objects should be kept in your front pockets, not your back pockets. Sitting on lumpy surfaces will put extra pressure on the nerve and make the situation worse.
Taking short walks and gradually increasing your walking distance will also help to relieve pain and restore normal movement.
Many people find that using heat or cold packs can help ease the pain significantly. Using either heat packs or cold packs, or a mix of the two, several times a day can help relieve pain and increase movement both immediately and over time.