Back Pain: The Real Problem With Sciatica and What to Do About It

So this last week or so, my clinic has been flooded with people suffering from back pain.

But not just any old type of back pain – the most severe of all in my humble opinion, “sciatica”.

There’s only one word to describe the pain that people suffer at the hands of sciatica and that’s “horrendous”!

In case you’re not familiar with what it is – you’d recognize it by having a severe pain running right down the back of your leg and into your toes.

And it’s often made much worse when you sit.

And there’s the real, true, underlying cause of most people’s trouble: sitting. How much of it have you been doing lately?

Because it’s the time of the year when you’re more tempted than ever not to go outside and exercise. When the wind blows and it’s frigid outside, it often IS sensible to stay indoors and just cabin up.

But the problem is the more sitting that you do, which adds pressure to your back and so onto your sciatic nerve, eventually, a disc at the bottom of your back will give up and the fluid inside it touches the nerve which runs down your leg – AKA sciatica.

It can cause pins and needles in your foot, numbness, and a cold sensation as well as the pain – and unfortunately, it’s often so painful that nothing in the way of medication – Morphine included, can ease it.

And despite what a few local doctors in town seem to think these days, there are things that can be done other than rest and painkillers or just hoping for it to go away.

Physical Therapy can help. It often makes it worse before it gets better – but it does get better. Specific exercises are needed too. Again, they are painful at first, but if you persist, the pain begins to drop.

Moreover: Limiting the amount of time you spend sitting can help too. And there’s something to note – I see a lot of people sitting on the chair in my clinic with back pain and they tell me that “sitting doesn’t make it worse” – but what they’re doing is sitting in a modified or slouched way that means they’re just avoiding the pain – making the whole thing last longer and often leaving the person with an awkward looking posture long after the back trouble has gone.

So, to sum up today’s “health lesson”…

Sciatica is a painful and life limiting condition. But, unless you’re in the small 5% of people for whom nothing can be done other than surgery, there ARE things you can do. And I think what is best understand about sciatica – and something that should be communicated a lot more by health professionals trying to help people suffering – is that often when you’re trying to make sciatica better in the long run, an increase in pain in the short run is normal. Not nice. But par for the course!

And in the end, it will mean for a much more speedy return to better health than sitting and praying for time to make it go away or, popping more and more painkillers!

Trupti Mehta, PT, MS, OCS
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