The Healing of Sciatica
The term sciatica is often confused with general back pain. However, if you’ve ever had this painful condition, you know sciatica is not just limited to the back. Fortunately there is hope for improvement and relief. But how do you know if you are getting better? Let’s take a look. But first…
What is Sciatica?
Sciatica is a condition characterized by pain that radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve, which is the longest nerve in the body. This nerve extends from the lower back down through the hips and buttocks, branching out into the legs and feet. Sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve becomes compressed or irritated. This is usually due to underlying factors such as a herniated disc, spinal stenosis, arthritis, trauma or muscle tightness.
The most common symptom of sciatica is a sharp, shooting pain that travels from the lower back, into the buttocks and down one leg even as far down as the feet. It can be accompanied by numbness, tingling sensations or weakness in the affected leg.
What Are the Signs of Sciatica Improving?
Sciatica can vary in intensity and duration but usually lasts between two to six weeks with acute pain lasting one to two weeks. And while it can be incredibly painful, it is a condition that can be improved with time, appropriate care and treatment.
Here are some signs to let you know your sciatica pain is going in the right direction.
You may not feel your pain level reducing, but if the location of your pain begins retreating from your leg into only your back, that’s a sign of improvement. The shorter the distance of pain, the better.
Reduced/less frequent pain
This one is pretty obvious, but it’s certainly the most encouraging! As your sciatica improves your pain should become less intense and/or less frequent.
To see if this is the case, try the straight leg raise test. Sit in a chair and try to raise the affected leg to be perpendicular to the floor. Monitor the level of pain each day and night. If it is lessening day by day, you are improving!
As you move towards sciatica recovery, you’ll likely find it easier to move around. Tasks that were once painful or challenging, such as standing up from a chair or walking, may become more manageable. It should be easier to bend, twist and perform daily activities.
Sciatica can disrupt sleep because of the discomfort. When your sciatica is getting better, you may notice that you can sleep more soundly and without as much restlessness.
When your sciatic nerve is really flared up, it can affect your balance. As your sciatica improves, you may find it easier to maintain balance while walking or standing, reducing the risk of stumbling or falling.
Less frequent use of assistive devices
If you’ve been relying on assistive devices like crutches, a cane or supportive pillows to alleviate pressure on the affected leg, you may gradually find that you need them less and eventually stop using them altogether.
Sometimes when we are in pain, we try to compensate by holding our body in a different, more unnatural position. As sciatica improves, you should gradually adopt a more comfortable and less-hunched posture, which can reduce strain on your lower back and contribute to your overall well-being.
Better quality of life
Ultimately, improvement in your sciatica should result in an enhanced quality of life. You’ll be able to participate in activities you enjoy, experience less discomfort and feel more like yourself again.
Can Sciatica Get Worse Before it Improves?
Sciatica can be unpredictable, and there may be times when it feels like it’s getting worse before it gets better. This phenomenon can be discouraging, but we hope it helps to know that it’s not uncommon. Several factors can contribute to this apparent worsening:
As we mentioned above, if the pain begins to travel a shorter distance down the sciatic nerve, it is a sign of improvement. However, as the pain begins to centralize in your back, the pain could be even more intense at times.
Natural healing process
Sometimes, as your body begins to heal, you may experience setbacks. This can be due to the body’s natural response to inflammation and the repair process. These setbacks are usually temporary and followed by gradual improvement.
If you’ve started a new treatment regimen, such as chiropractic care, physical therapy or exercises, there can be an adapting period. Your body may need time to respond to these treatments before you experience relief.
Your daily activities and habits can influence the course of your sciatica. If you’re not following recommended rest, lifestyle changes or ergonomics, it can slow down your recovery.
Sciatica can have various underlying causes, such as herniated discs or spinal stenosis. The severity and nature of the underlying issue can affect the trajectory of your recovery.
How Do I Improve My Sciatica?
When you are facing sciatica, you obviously want to get relief fast. There are many things you can do to accelerate the healing process and alleviate pain.
Give your body a break by avoiding activities that worsen your symptoms. Bed rest for a day or two can provide relief, but avoid prolonged inactivity as it can lead to muscle stiffness.
“Wait, you just told me to rest!” Yes, we did, but walking is the perfect low-impact aerobic exercise to help improve blood flow, reduce inflammation and promote healing. Just start slow and gradually increase the duration and intensity if it brings relief.
Apply ice packs to the affected area for the first 48 hours to reduce inflammation.
Elevating your legs while lying down can help reduce pressure on the sciatic nerve and provide relief.
Perform gentle stretches that target the affected area to relieve tension. Common stretches include the piriformis stretch, hamstring stretch and knee-to-chest stretch.
When sitting, use a cushion or pillow to support your lower back and hips, reducing pressure on the sciatic nerve.
A chiropractor can perform adjustments to alleviate pressure on the sciatic nerve and improve spinal alignment. Many people find relief after a few chiropractic sessions.
How Can I Make Sure My Sciatica Doesn’t Come Back?
Preventing the recurrence of sciatica involves adopting a combination of lifestyle changes, good habits and proactive measures to protect your spine and overall health. Here are some steps you can take to reduce the risk of sciatica returning:
Maintain a healthy weight
Excess weight can put added pressure on the spine, increasing the risk of sciatica.
Engage in a consistent exercise routine that includes core-strengthening exercises. A strong core can support your spine and reduce the risk of sciatic nerve compression.
Practice good posture
Maintain proper posture, especially when sitting and standing. Use ergonomically designed furniture and workspaces to support your spine.
When lifting heavy objects, bend at your knees, not your waist, and use your leg muscles to lift. Avoid twisting your body while lifting.
Stretch and move frequently
Avoid prolonged periods of sitting or standing. If your job requires sitting or driving for extended hours, take regular breaks to walk and stretch. Incorporate regular stretching and flexibility exercises into your routine as well.
Use proper footwear
Wear shoes that provide adequate support and cushioning, especially if you have to stand or walk for long periods.
Chronic stress can exacerbate muscle tension and inflammation. Practice stress-reduction techniques such as meditation, yoga or deep breathing exercises.
Proper hydration supports the health of the intervertebral discs in your spine. Drink enough water throughout the day.
Regular chiropractic care
Consider ongoing chiropractic care as a preventive measure. Regular adjustments can help maintain spinal health.
When Should I See a Specialist?
While many cases of sciatica can improve with time and conservative treatments, there are instances where consulting a specialist like Dr. Levi.
If your pain is severe or is accompanied by muscle weakness or loss of bladder or bowel control, seek immediate medical attention.
If you’ve tried conservative self-care treatments for several weeks without relief, it’s time to consult a specialist for a more in-depth evaluation.
If you’ve had sciatica before and it returns, especially if it’s interfering with your daily life, it’s time for a specialist like Dr. Levi.
Numbness or weakness
If you experience prolonged numbness or weakness in your leg, it’s essential to see a specialist to rule out more serious conditions.
Sciatica Chiropractor in Maryland
Levi Chiropractic has gotten results for thousands of people suffering from sciatica. After examination, diagnosis and the determination of the source of your sciatica, Dr. Levi will recommend an aggressive treatment to relieve your sciatic nerve irritation. This is then followed by rehabilitation of the affected structures through effective, evidenced-based, gentle therapies. If sciatica pain is affecting your daily life, contact us to see how we can help.