About 40 percent of all people will experience the sensation known as sciatica at some point during our lives. Since this statistic is so staggering, it’s worth spending some time to break down its underlying causes.
While most people associate sciatica with the back, the sciatic nerve is quite sizeable (the longest in the body) – running from the lumbar portion of the back, down through the buttocks, to the legs, and just below the knee. Sciatica is when this area becomes painful due to inflammation of the sciatic nerve, and it usually affects just one side and/or leg.
Irritation of this nerve can cause pain that ranges from mild to severe. According to the Mayo Clinic, some people may feel numbness or a jolt-like “electric shock,” but almost all people with this condition report that their pain is worse after long periods of sitting.
Common Causes of Sciatic Pain
Sciatica is the most commonly reported symptom for those with a slipped, or herniated, disc in their vertebrae. The discs wedged between each set of our 33 spinal vertebrae act as protective cushions, guarding our spines from injury and from the immense pressure placed on them during daily activities.
Unfortunately, normal wear-and-tear and harsh impacts can cause the gel-like fluid inside a disc to seep out of the disc’s hard shell. When this occurs, irritation, tingling, and a pinched feeling can follow, due to the fluid irritating the spinal nerves.
Another common condition that is associated with sciatica is isthmic spondylolisthesis. This is a condition in which a stress fracture causes one vertebral disc to slip forward on top of the next disc below. The result is often sciatic pain.
Sciatica vs. Spinal Stenosis
As we age, our bones weaken – including the structures of the spine. Spinal stenosis and sciatica are closely linked: As the spine begins to narrow, it puts pressure on the nerves inside the spinal column – which causes an overgrowth of soft tissue. People with arthritis may also feel the effects of shooting sciatic pain.
Left untreated, sciatica can lead to lasting impairment in the back. It’s important to be aware of the risk factors for sciatica, and take the necessary precautions to limit the amount of stress placed on the sciatic nerve.
Does Diet Affect Sciatic Pain?
Although age is one of the main reasons why people develop sciatic pain, we can take measures to keep our bones healthy and strong. Your diet should contain the right amounts of calcium, magnesium, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12, vitamin D, and metafolin (a form of folate). Ask your doctor about the optimum amounts of vitamins and minerals based on your unique needs.
It’s also a good idea to quit smoking, as this habit can greatly reduce bone mass.
How to Avoid Sciatica
As much as possible, try to avoid long periods of sitting. While your profession may require prolonged periods sitting at a desk – or if you enjoy playing bridge or bingo where you sit for hours at a time – you should always take breaks. Be sure to include strolls around the room or the office.
Even small amounts of exercise will help to reduce your risk of sciatica. Obese and overweight people are more likely to experience the aforementioned spinal problems.
Pain Specialists in Texas
Mild numbness, tingling, or muscle weakness in the lower back or down through the legs usually indicate sciatic pain – and this can be treated with measures recommended by a pain specialist.
Specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of chronic pain, Balcones Pain Consultants has all the necessary tools and treatments to help enhance your quality of life.
We have three convenient locations in Austin, Cedar Park, and Marble Falls. For more information about our services, or to schedule an appointment, call us today at (512) 834-4141 or fill out our appointment request form here. We’re here to help you achieve improved health and well-being so you can get back to enjoying your life every day.