7 warning signs to know if your sciatica is serious

Do you experience a sharp discomfort that travels down your leg from your lower back? Or does your leg feel numb or weak, making walking challenging?

It could be sciatica, a condition that 40% of Americans experience at some point in their lives [1]. The good news is that sciatica can be treated, and in most cases, after 3-6 months, it will go away on its own.

What causes sciatica and what precisely is it? How do you recognize this condition? When exactly should you visit a doctor? We address all of these questions in this article.

What is sciatica?

A medical ailment known as sciatica is characterized by pain, numbness, or weakness that spreads down the sciatic nerve’s course.

The sciatic nerve, which extends from the lower back down the buttocks and legs, is the longest and thickest nerve in the human body.

The lower back, buttocks, and legs may experience pain and other symptoms when this nerve is pinched or inflamed.

Common causes of sciatica

Numerous conditions that affect the sciatic nerve or the tissues close by can result in sciatica. Following are some typical reasons for sciatica:

  • Herniated or bulging disc: Discs that have herniated or bulged might push on the sciatic nerve when the discs in the spine get worn out or damaged.
  • Spinal stenosis: This is a condition in which the spinal canal becomes constricted, placing pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots, especially the sciatic nerve [2].
  • Piriformis syndrome: The buttock’s piriformis muscle, which has the potential to tighten or spasm, might aggravate the sciatic nerve.
  • Degenerative disc disease: Pain and inflammation result when the spinal discs lose their flexibility and capacity to absorb trauma.
  • Spondylolisthesis: One vertebra may move out of position, causing a disease called spondylolisthesis, which puts pressure on the sciatic nerve.
  • Trauma or injury: The sciatic nerve may become inflamed or compressed as a result of a traumatic injury to the lower back or buttocks.
  • Pregnancy: Sciatica can develop as a result of strain on the sciatic nerve caused by the uterus’ expansion during pregnancy.
  • Tumors: Spinal or pelvic tumors that impinge on the sciatic nerve might result in sciatica.
common causes of sciatica
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Where are the sciatic nerves located?

The biggest nerves in the body, the sciatic nerves originate in the lower back and go down the buttocks and each leg.

The lumbar and sacral areas of the spinal cord in the lower back are where the sciatic nerves begin. The sciatic nerve, which emerges from the combination of nerve roots, descends through the buttocks and into the legs.

The thigh, leg, and foot muscles are supplied with sensation and movement by smaller nerves that branch off the sciatic nerve as it descends the leg. The skin of the leg and foot and the hip, knee, and ankle joints receive sensory input from the sciatic nerve [3]. 

Who is more prone to sciatica?

Anyone can experience sciatica, but some things can make it more likely. Following are some elements that may increase a person’s risk of sciatica:

  • Age: Due to wear and tear on the spine, an individual’s chance of acquiring sciatica rises as they age.
  • Work: Jobs that require heavy lifting, extended periods of sitting or standing, or repetitive motions might raise the risk of sciatica.
  • Obesity: Carrying around extra weight raises the risk of sciatica and adds strain to the spine.
  • Diabetes: The sciatic nerve is susceptible to injury from diabetes, which can also impair nerve function [4].
  • Inactivity: A sedentary lifestyle can weaken the muscles that support the spine and raise the risk of sciatica.
  • Pregnancy: During pregnancy, the weight of the expanding uterus can place strain on the sciatic nerve, resulting in sciatica.
  • Genetics: Having a history of sciatica or other disorders affecting the spine may make you more likely to get the ailment.

It’s crucial to remember that a person need not necessarily have all of these risk factors to acquire sciatica. Likewise, a person needs no risk factors to avoid developing this condition.

However, forming healthy lifestyle habits like keeping a healthy weight, working out frequently, and taking care of your posture can help lower the risk of getting sciatica.

7 warning signs to know if your sciatica is serious

Your quality of life may be negatively impacted by the discomfort associated with sciatica. While the majority of sciatica cases can be treated conservatively with drugs, physical therapy, and dietary changes, some cases may be more serious and demand urgent medical care. 

Here are seven indicators that your sciatica is severe:

1. Loss of bladder or bowel control

Cauda equina syndrome is a dangerous illness that needs immediate medical treatment if you suddenly lose control of your bladder or bowels or have trouble urinating.

2. Progressive weakness in the legs

It may indicate nerve injury and call for medical care if you gradually lose strength in your legs or find it difficult to elevate your foot or toes.

3. Numbness in the genital area

A medical expert should be seen if you have numbness in your inner thighs or vaginal region since this might be an indication of nerve injury.

4. Severe and constant pain

It may be a sign of a more serious underlying disease if you have intense and ongoing pain that does not go away with rest or over-the-counter medicine [5].

5. Sudden onset of symptoms

If your sciatica symptoms appear out of nowhere and develop suddenly, there may be a more significant underlying disease.

6. High fever

If you have a high fever along with sciatica symptoms, it could be a sign of an infection or other serious condition.

7. History of cancer

To rule out any cancer-related issues, it’s crucial to be checked out by a doctor if you have a history of cancer and are experiencing sciatica symptoms.

What could happen if you ignore the early signs of sciatica?

Ignoring the initial symptoms of sciatica might eventually result in more severe and incapacitating symptoms. The following are possible effects of ignoring sciatica warning signs:

  • Increased discomfort: Sciatica pain can worsen and spread if it is not treated, making it challenging to carry out daily tasks.
  • Numbness and tingling: Ignoring the first indications of sciatica can result in the leg being permanently numb and tingly, which can impair mobility and feeling.
  • Muscle weakness: As the sciatic nerve gets increasingly inflamed or compressed, it may cause the affected leg’s muscles to become weak, making it challenging to carry out specific motions or tasks [6].
  • Reflex loss: Ignoring sciatica may cause the afflicted leg to lose its reflexes, which may be a sign of nerve injury.
  • Reduced quality of life: Prolonged sciatica pain can impair mobility, lower one’s quality of life, and cause anxiety or depression.
  • Complication risk is increased: Ignoring sciatica can lead to problems including infections, blood clots, or muscular atrophy.

If you see any early indications of sciatica, you should consult a doctor right away so you can find the root of the problem and get the right care.

Early intervention can reduce symptoms and stop the problem from escalating into more serious stages.

How is sciatica treated?
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How is sciatica treated?

The underlying cause and severity of the problem are usually factors in determining sciatica therapy. Here are a few typical remedies for sciatica:

1. Medication

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) or acetaminophen, both available over-the-counter, can help reduce sciatica-related pain and inflammation. Muscle relaxants or prescription painkillers may be required in more extreme circumstances.

2. Physical treatment

A physical therapist can design a personalized workout regimen based on your unique requirements and objectives. Physical therapy can help with pain management, mobility enhancement, and building stronger muscles around the spine.

3. Hot and cold therapy

Applying hot or cold compresses to the afflicted region can help decrease inflammation and alleviate pain. This is known as the hot and cold treatment.

4. Injection therapy

Sciatica pain can be relieved and inflammation reduced with the aid of steroid injections, such as epidural steroid injections or nerve root blocks.

5. Surgery

To treat the underlying cause of sciatica, such as a herniated disc or spinal stenosis, surgery may be required in severe instances.

6. Lifestyle modifications

Making lifestyle changes, such as keeping a straight spine, using safe lifting techniques, and exercising regularly, can help avoid or lessen the severity of sciatica symptoms.

In order to reduce discomfort, increase mobility, and avoid additional issues, treating sciatica is crucial. Ignoring sciatica symptoms can result in persistent pain, damage to the nerves, and a lower quality of life.

A successful sciatica treatment program can reduce discomfort, improve daily activities, and enhance overall quality of life.

Without treatment, sciatica pain and discomfort can make it difficult to carry out daily tasks and have a significant effect on one’s physical and mental health.

To identify the underlying reason and obtain the best care, it’s critical to seek medical assistance if you develop sciatica symptoms.

Most sciatica cases may be adequately treated, allowing sufferers to return to their regular activities and retain a high quality of life.

[1] https://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/sciatica-of-all-the-nerve
[2] https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sciatica/symptoms-causes/syc-20377435
[3] https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/body/21618-sciatic-nerve
[4] https://www.healthcentral.com/condition/sciatica/6-little-known-facts-about-sciatica
[5] https://www.webmd.com/back-pain/guide/sciatica-symptoms
[6] https://www.houstonneurosurgeryandspine.com/5-reasons-you-shouldnt-ignore-the-symptoms-of-sciatica/

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