Sciatica refers to a pain that radiates from your back, through
your buttocks and down your leg. It is due to pressure on the largest
nerve in your body, your sciatic nerve. It can result from a herniated
disk in your spinal column (disks are pads of cartilage that separate
the vertebrae, or bones, of your spine) or from a muscle called the
piriformis that starts at the lower end of your spinal column and is
connected to your thigh bone. It can also be caused by a slipped disk or
More than half the population of the US suffers from
sciatica at one time or another throughout their lives, and many people
get it several times. In mild cases it goes away after a few weeks; in
some cases, however, particularly those associated with disk problems,
it can linger for many months.
The first thing you should do is
try to find out what is causing the problem: an injured disk or pressure
from the piriformis muscle. And fortunately there is a test that can
tell you which of these is likely to be your problem.
article I'll outline ten things that I found particularly helpful in
dealing with sciatica. The first one is related to the test I mentioned
1. For the test, begin by lying on your back and lifting
your affected leg straight up. Does it cause pain? Now, pull your leg
into your chest with the knee bent. Again, note if there is pain. If the
piriformis muscle is at fault, pain will occur in both cases - when the
leg is straight and when it is bent. If it is a disk problem, on the
other hand, the pain will only occur when the leg is straight. (If
you're sure you have a disk problem, you should see your doctor as soon
2. The rest of the suggestions are best for people
with a squeezed piriformis muscle, but they are also helpful for disk
problems. First of all, some rest is usually needed, but limit it to a
day or so. During this time apply cold packs to the affected area; they
will help reduce the inflammation. Later you can alternate with hot
3. Stretching exercises are particularly good. I will describe five that are very effective.
Lie on your back. Pull your legs into your chest one at a time and hold
for 30 seconds. Release and relax for a few seconds. Do this about 10
times for each leg.
b) Remaining on your back, pull your leg up
towards your chest, but this time also pull it across your body. Again
hold it for 30 seconds. Also, do it for each leg about 10 times.
Again, on your back, lift your leg straight up, pull on it with your
hands locked behind it. Hold it for 30 seconds. Do 10 for each side.
Now, raise your knees up, move them to one side and hold them for 30
seconds, then do the same on the other side. Again, do 10 on each side
Finally, bend your unaffected leg so your knee is in the air. Pass your
affected leg across and behind it and lock it in position, then reach
through and grab your unaffected knee with your hands and pull it. Hold
it for 30 seconds. Again, so this several times.
Exercises are also particularly good. I found that bicycling was one of
the best exercises of this type because it doesn't stress the affected
area. Try to go at least 20 minutes on a stationary bike if you have
access to one. (I love the treadmill, but I found that it aggravated my
injury if I did it for long.)
5. Many medications or drug such as
aspirin, ibuprofen and Tylenol are helpful in alleviating the pain, but
I'll leave them to you and your doctor. Several were helpful to me, but
nothing seemed to completely relieve the pain.
6. Another things
that was very helpful to me was TENS (Transcutaneous electrical Nerve
Stimulation) and EMS (Electrical Muscle Stimulation). They work by
sending electrical pulses through the skin to stimulate the nerves. They
are administered by chiropractors and physical therapist. Although they
help relieve the pain they do nothing to cure the condition.
Another thing I found very helpful when the affected area was aching a
lot was to stretch out on my back on a bed for about a half an hour and
completely relax. I found it to be particularly helpful.
Massage by a professional masseur can also be helpful. Massage relaxes
your muscles and can release some of the pressure from the piriformis
9. One of the most serious problems for me was an
inability to sleep at night because of the persistent pain. I found that
applying a heating pad to the affected area was very helpful.
Finally, if you're sure the problem is due to one or more of your
disks, or if it continues for several weeks, make sure you see a doctor.
Chiropractors and physical therapists.
Barry Parker, Ph. D., is a professor emeritus (physics) at Idaho
State University. He is the author of 25 books on science, health,
writing, and music. His website is http://www.BarryParkerbooks.com and he has several blogs, one of them is at http://www.Barrysbuzz123.blogspot.com.
He has done research in biophysics (mutations in the DNA molecule) and
in relativity theory (Einstein's field theory), has a strong interest in
health and fitness, self-improvement, and in music (particularly
piano). He taught a writing class at ISU for several years. Two of his
recent books are "Feel Great Feel Alive," and "Learn from Yesterday,
Live for Today, Hope for Tomorrow"
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