Sciatica can start with something as minor as occasional dull or mild pain in one leg or on one side of the body. However, some of the three million or so Americans affected by this nerve-related condition may experience numbness, tingling sensations, and local or radiating pain that’s more disruptive. The nerve’s length, which runs from the lower back down into the legs before branching off into smaller nerves, causes symptoms to be varied. While sciatica isn’t always preventable and may need to be diagnosed and treated by a spine surgeon, Santa Monica residents should be aware there are certain risk factors associated with this type of nerve irritation.
Age-Related Spine Changes
Over time, changes to the spine and its supporting tissues can contribute to some degree of disc damage. If parts of spinal discs protrude or break off, the sciatic nerve can become irritated or compressed. You can’t stop the natural aging process, but you can:
- Make an effort to exercise regularly
- Eat foods with calcium, B vitamins, magnesium, vitamins D and K, and other nutrients that keep spinal bones, tissues, and nerves healthy
- Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption
Extra weight can place added pressure on the spine, it’s supporting tissues, joints, and the sciatic nerve. If an inactive lifestyle is also part of the equation, spine-supporting muscles may become weaker over time, which can place additional stress on the spine and its nearby parts.
Long-term diabetes affects nerve sensitivity and functioning. Progressive nerve damage may eventually affect the sciatic nerve enough to make it more susceptible to irritation and inflammation. This risk is higher for diabetics who can’t effectively control their blood sugar levels.
Sudden trauma or an injury directly affecting the spine may cause an intervertebral disc to rupture. Some injuries of this nature also cause vertebrae to shift and tissues to swell. The resulting damage from spine injuries may place pressure on the sciatic nerve and trigger symptoms felt beyond the affected part of the backbone.
Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal. Many people have this condition with little or no symptoms. However, if the narrowing increases over time and affects the lower spine, the sciatic nerve could end up being compressed.
Whether it’s repeated bending, reaching, twisting, or performing repetitive movements involving the lower back, there are many daily movements that could affect the sciatic nerve. There’s also evidence suggesting sitting for long periods can contribute to sciatica. Not all movements related to your daily or work-related routine can be avoided entirely, but there are things you can do to avoid the kind of excessive lower-back stress that may affect the sciatic nerve:
- Use proper lifting techniques (e.g. bend your hips and knees, avoid twisting and turning while lifting something, and straighten your legs as you lift)
- Minimize repetitive lower back movements as much as possible
- Use lumbar-supporting braces if you have to do work involving lower back movements
- Shift your position as you sit, or use an ergonomically designed chair to ease stress on muscles around the sciatic nerve
- Watch your posture as you sit, stand, and sleep
Mild cases of sciatica often go away with rest and home remedies like over-the-counter medications. Other patients see improvements with prescription pain and anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy exercises that focus on strengthening spine-supporting muscles, therapeutic techniques like hot and cold applications, nerve blocks or injections, and chiropractic adjustments. If the underlying cause of sciatica is a herniated disc, bone spurs, or another issue involving the spine, surgery may be necessary to correct such issues if conservative treatments aren’t effective.
If you think you might have sciatica or another spinal condition, get in touch with The Spine Institute right away. We specialize in a wide array of spinal procedures, from fusion surgery to lumbar disc replacement. Santa Monica patients place their trust in Dr. Hyun Bae for good reason. Call 310-828-7757 today to take the first steps toward living a pain-free life.