Understanding the Connection Between Sciatica and Lower Back Pain
Nothing paralyzes you more than back pain. You find yourself flat on the ground and still in agony, unable to move and sometimes even talk. People throw the term "sciatica" around, so what is the relationship between sciatica and lower back pain?
Sciatica occurs one of many causes irritates your sciatic nerve, thus causing debilitating lower back pain. Lower back pain can occur without sciatica, but sciatica ultimately causes lower back pain.
What is Sciatica?
Do not confuse lower back pain with sciatica. Many people often have debilitating pain in their lower back that does not stem from an aggravated sciatic nerve.
The sciatic nerve is a major nerve that goes from the bottom of your spine all the way down the back of your legs. When one of a handful of causes irritates that nerve, it flares up, causing pain from your lower back down your legs.
You may have numb toes or legs, or a tingling sensation. You could also experience a burning sensation of numbness anywhere from the back of your rear all the way to your toes. This electrical feeling means something has irritated your sciatic nerve.
Causes of Sciatica and Lower Back Pain
Sciatica results from something irritating your sciatic nerve. You could have a disc problem like a lumbar herniated disc or degenerative disc disease that is pinching your sciatic nerve. You could also have stenosis where your spine begins to narrow at the base, thus pinching the sciatic nerve.
Sciatica causes pain stemming from the lower back, and thus many people refer to it as lower back pain before they know exactly what's going on. Basic lower back pain can stem from other causes though. Here are a few of the basic causes of lower back pain.
Arthritis can cause lower back pain. Arthritis can occur naturally when your cartilage breaks down because of overuse or it can be caused by an autoimmune disorder where your immune system begins to attack your cartilage.
Pain and stiffness are the most common symptoms of arthritis. You'll notice it when you have joint problems that cause radiating pain into your leg joints.
Most people think of swollen knuckles or sore knees when they think of arthritis. However, you can have arthritis in your back. No one truly knows the cause of arthritis, but the fact that it often accompanies old age makes one believe that constant use can lead to arthritis.
Often doctors will treat arthritis with pain medications, physical therapy, steroid injections, and even surgery in the most severe cases.
Arthritis occurs when your joints swell and become tender as a result of cartilage breaking down between the joints. You end up with bone rubbing on bone. Bone spurs may develop and break off causing more pain.
With rheumatoid arthritis, your immune system attacks your joints and the lining of your joint.
Joint dysfunction also causes arthritis. The sacroiliac joints are the joints between your sacrum and the ilium bones of the pelvis. They can become inflamed due to a number of reasons, and the pain can mimic sciatica.
There's good news when you have joint dysfunction. While the pain is debilitating, a chiropractor and physical therapist can treat the problem and get you back into a pain-free existence.
Multiple spinal adjustments by a chiropractor will move the joints back to their normal position and stabilize the spine. This will alleviate the inflammation in the joints, leading to less pain and more movement.
When you have lower back pain, do not automatically assume you have sciatica and have to just live with it. You can find relief with adjustments if you have joint dysfunction.
Piriformis syndrome quite simply is a pain in the butt. The piriformis muscle is a muscle in your rear. More than 80 percent of people have their sciatic nerve running through their piriformis muscle.
When you injure the piriformis muscle, you will feel pain in your sciatic nerve, and the pain will feel exactly like sciatica. If you overuse the muscle or strain it, you will feel a burning pain from you rear all the way down the back of your leg and sometimes into your feet. You may even feel numbness in your feet.
But the good news is that this pain is caused by an irritated muscle and not a spinal problem. You can fix the problem in a few different ways.
- Inflammation treatment: Use ice and anti-inflammatory medications to reduce the inflammation in the muscle. Take a regimen of anti-inflammatory medications to get the inflammation down so you can then begin to rebuild the muscle.
- Physical therapy: A physical therapist will run you through important exercises that strengthen your butt muscles so you do not have the same irritation in the future.
- Home therapy: Once you've finished with physical therapy, you can do home therapy to prevent the same problems. You can use a foam roller to regularly roll out your butt muscles, keeping them stretched and pliable and thus not causing the same pain.
Imagine your muscle, squeezing, and hugging your sciatic nerve. This is what piriformis syndrome looks like. The muscle hugs your sciatic nerve, making it fire all the way down your leg.
Stretching and strengthening your piriformis will release that sciatic nerve and allow you to regain mobility quickly.
Sciatica stems from your spine. The cause begins with the back, and the problem goes down your leg. It is a debilitating condition, causing a weak leg and requiring purposeful treatment.
Sciatica looks like this:
- Lower back pain
- Pain radiating into one leg
- Burning or pins-and-needles sensations
- Electrifying pain your lower back
- Pain in the leg or rear that worsens when you sit
- Hip pain
- Weak leg; difficulty moving your leg
- Constant pain on one side of your rear
Sciatica usually only affects one side of the body. The pain will feel like an electric shock going from your back all the way down the back of your thigh and through your leg.
Sciatica does not necessarily mean you're in constant pain. The pain can be perpetual and debilitating or could just be an irritating, infrequent pain. Regardless, sciatic nerve pain will lead you to seek help.
Many people want to self-diagnose their sciatica. It makes sense that you'd want to just know what's going on. However, you could have a much more serious spinal condition that you need to care for, so seek a medical professional's opinion.
What Else Could Go Wrong?
Your sciatic nerve and leg pain can come from something other than a pinched sciatic nerve. You could have a spinal tumor or infection or even something as serious as cauda equina syndrome.
These conditions all require immediate care. Patients need to have imaging tests such as an MRI to receive an accurate diagnosis. Then a spinal specialist can thoroughly treat the condition.
Difference Between Lower Back Pain and Sciatica
Lower back pain is, quite simply put, pain in your back. It can come from overusing muscles or straining muscles that surround the back. Sciatica is also a pain in your lower back, but it has a specific cause.
Lower back pain can come from something as simple as overuse and something as complicated and scary as a spinal tumor. Sciatica stems directly from how the spine is affecting the sciatic nerve.
Sciatica will not go away on its own. This makes it different from general lower back pain.
A Healthy Weight
Extra weight puts more strain on your joints, including your back. It causes inflammation and pain. If you're overweight, make a point of modifying your diet and increasing your exercise so you can experience less joint pain.
Good posture techniques will help relieve pressure on the back. Pay attention to how you sit, stand, lift, and sleep. These simple modifications will help you keep your spine aligned and keep your pain at back.
Muscles that do not move atrophy and thus cannot adequately support your skeletal structure. Plus, your joints get creaky. When you exercise you stretch your joints, keeping them flexible and strengthening the muscles.
Do not sit for long periods of time. One little trick will prevent you from sitting too long: drink lots of water. When you drink sips of water regularly, you'll have to use the restroom regularly and thus get up from your seat.
Wear Sturdy Shoes
Pay attention to what you put on your feet. Having sturdy shoes will help prevent falls and keep your back healthy.
These simple moves can help prevent both sciatica and lower back pain.
How to Sleep With Lower Back Pain and Sciatica
Sleep is essential for healing. When you sleep, your blood pressure goes down, you relax, and body has a chance to do its greatest work of restoring what damage you've done throughout the day. In short, you need to sleep if you want to heal.
What if you can't fall asleep because of your sciatica and lower back pain? You can do a few things to alleviate your pain.
For one, sleep with a pillow between your legs. This little hack has made a difference for many people suffering with sciatica. It aligns your legs, putting them in their proper position under your hips and thus puts less pressure on your sciatic nerve.
Elevating your legs has also proven to help relieve lower back and sciatic nerve pain. When you elevate your legs, you increase blood flow to your spine and put less pressure on your lower back.
Using an adjustable mattress has also made a difference for people suffering from sciatic nerve pain. A medium-firm mattress works well to keep your spine aligned over the course of an evening.
If you're a side sleeper, you'll find that too firm of a mattress will leave your shoulder too high and your spine curved. If you have heavy hips, you'll find that too soft of a mattress will make your hips sink and make your spine out of alignment. Thus a medium to firm mattress seems to work best to keep things aligned.
Before you go to bed, you can always use a heating pad for lower back pain. This will help muscles relax and alleviate the pressure on your sciatic nerve.
Does a Back Support Belt Help Sciatica?
Yes, a back brace can significantly reduce the pain caused by sciatica. When you use something like a decompression back brace, your posture is better and your spine is more aligned.
This means that the vertebrae are less likely to compress and pinch your sciatic nerve. You will experience relief with the correct back support belt.
Exercises For Lower Back Pain and Sciatica
Lower back pain exercises consist primarily of back stretches. They take time, and to be honest, they're kind of boring. However, they alleviate sciatic pain and bring your whole body back into a healthy state.
Yoga poses like the pigeon pose or sitting pigeon pose bring relief to sciatica sufferers. Even something as simple as a sit and reach might hurt initially but will stretch out the muscles that are pinching your sciatic nerve.
Sit Up, Find Relief
Sciatica and lower back pain can lead to a debilitating condition. Back pain is one of the most common reasons people apply for disability. It paralyzes individuals that much.
The right exercises, changes in lifestyle, and a good back brace can turn things around. You do not have to live with back pain.