What is Sciatica?
Sciatica, you may have heard this medical term tossed around recently by friends, family or coworkers in conversation. This seems to be a fairly prevalent issue affecting the population, with around 3 million reported cases per year in the United States alone, with the majority of cases starting at the ripe young age of 19 years old! It seems as though recent advancements in technology have come as a double edged sword, simultaneously enhancing our productive capabilities, but also causing complications with our bodies that have not yet adapted to the inactivity. This world is much different to the one our ancestors grew up in, gone are the days of hunting and foraging, we are no longer forced to walk miles on end and work manually for the things we need. These days the majority stand around, or sit at work, then go to our homes and Netflix and chill or do something similar to it.
So you may be wondering what on earth is this sciatica thing? Why are so many people affected by it? And why did we feel the need to talk about our new ways of life? Let’s start with touching on the sciatic nerve. This nerve starts in your low back (L4-L5 S1-S3) and travels down your glutes passing the hips and into your thigh. Sciatica is brought upon by the compression of that nerve. Compression can occur at any point of the nerve, and is typically a side effect of “improper loading”. When you first hear “improper loading” your mind may go directly to heavy lifting, however, it could also simply be maintaining a single position for long periods of time without breaking the pattern, making certain muscles work too much and others not work enough or even at all in certain circumstances i.e. sitting in a poorly designed chair. Along with poor diets low in water and high in caffeine leaving us dehydrated, with no lubrication for our joints, and leading to compression from our bones it’s no wonder sciatica claims so many new victims every year. Without further ado let’s get into signs pointing to possible sciatica.
Sign 1: Pain in the lower back.
If you’re a frequent sitter, for any reason, like maybe your job involves long hours at a desk, driving, or you’re a student that spends long hours in a classroom, you may have experienced this pain. Recently you’ve noticed that one side of your back seems to just nag the daylights out of you, and it gets exceptionally worse the longer you sit. Certain positions may be slightly more comfortable than others, such as when you’re slumped over your desk and/ or with your knees pushed out far to the side (especially the knee on the affected side) and it seems to be aggravated. You may be a new victim of sciatica. If you’re in the early stages you may be able to consult with your physician and nip it in the bud. They may recommend some stretches/ exercises or refer you to someone else who can help you in that aspect, along with recommending you try to hydrate more often.
Sign 2: Numbness
As we’ve all been told at one point, not all of us have similar experiences; our bodies share many things in common but respond differently than even those closest to us. While your friend who had sciatica may have experienced light to severe pain, your experience may be numbness. One isn’t worse than the other; they are simply different and bothersome nonetheless. If you have a numbing sensation in your low back, hips, glutes, thighs or all of the above and it seems to be worse when you are in certain positions, you may have sciatica. It may be centralized to one of the areas previously specified at first, and after long bouts of standing in place, driving, or sitting at your desk it begins to spread. This is perfectly normal for a person suffering from sciatic nerve compression, but should be dealt with as soon as possible to avoid long term issues that may end up resulting in a surgical recommendation.
Sign 3: Tingling
Tingling, or the feeling of pins and needles/ ants crawling through your hips down the buttocks through your thigh, and all the way down to your foot in some more advanced cases. This seems to be a very common complaint from people who are diagnosed with sciatica. Some wake up with the feeling bothering them and notice that it goes away the more they move around and loosen up a bit. Others notice that it only actually flares up as they move and get further into their day, or the common thread through this article when sitting for long periods of time. The differences could be due to sleeping positions, occupation, or postural habits we may have obtained over the years. The one thing that is constant however, is that with some critical thinking and analysis you will most likely be able to find an activity that seems to aggravate the symptoms more than others.
Sign 4: Swelling
Swelling, along with one or all of the previous symptoms/ signs is common, and you may notice that the same side you are feeling pain, numbness, or tingling on also has swelling. The swelling tends to be more noticeable in the low of your back, but can also be in the glutes, hips or thighs. In the gluteal region you may only notice it when you feel around, and notice there is what feels like a small sensitive rope in your buttocks. This could be an inflamed/ swollen piriformis. The sciatic nerve runs in between the piriformis and pelvic bone so when the piriformis is inflamed it can cause compression leading to sciatica. This is commonly referred to as piriformis syndrome and is frequently directly linked with sciatica. Something you can do if you believe that you are dealing with sciatica is have a friend or loved one take a look at your back and tell you if one side seems to stick out more than the other. If you don’t have someone that you trust or happen to be embarrassed for some reason (though you shouldn’t be) then try and take a look in the mirror, and feel around both glutes to see if you notice a difference in the two.
Sign 5: Weakness
Weakness in the hips, legs, and feet is another unfortunate yet very real symptom of sciatica and could be a sign pointing you straight to a professional for further diagnosis. The weakness could come in the form of your leg “feeling heavy” as you walk, making it feel as though one leg is being pulled down harder by gravity somehow. Others have a harder time than they once did getting out of a chair, even though they may not have gained any weight or changed anything else in their life. With regards to range of motion, a person with sciatica may notice that the side affected is okay until it reaches a certain angle, then the power production seems to decrease significantly. This weakness of the leg shouldn’t be taken lightly. Please do yourself a favor and seek out help, this isn’t a time to be too proud to seek help, it’s a serious issue that should be addressed as soon as you possibly can.
There are many roads that lead to Rome… Or in this case many signs that point to sciatica, even though you may not be feeling what you were once told sciatica felt like, it doesn’t mean that you are not in fact dealing with sciatic nerve issues. We are all different and even with similar lifestyles we may deal with them in different ways. Your nerve may be pinched/ compressed in a different spot or manner than your peers, and even if it isn’t, your brain may interpret the threat differently causing you to have a completely separate experience. The nuances of the human experience are always something that we have to take into consideration when evaluating our personal problems. With that in mind, if you happen to notice one of the 5 signs we mentioned (pain, numbness, tingling, swelling, or weakness) it would be highly recommended that you visit your doctor/physician for an evaluation.
Author: Tessa Mini owner of Bare Health