Back Pain: The ONE Thing That Makes Sciatica Worse and What to Do About It

Back Pain & Sciatica

Back Pain & Sciatica

“Dr. Dawn, I have been having horrible, miserable, and sleepless sciatica for the past 2 months now. My doctor has done little to help me and the muscle relaxers he prescribed are really weak!!! I tried a Chiropractor with no success. Aleve and a Tens unit don’t do a thing. I have been able to work from home but the constant sitting seems to make my sciatic pain worse. It’s gotten so bad that the other day I could not walk because of the pain and I was on my hands and knees. It was the only way I could get around the house and I noticed that sleeping on the floor helped. Any advice as to what I should do now to not make my sciatica get worse and what I can do about it? Thanks in advance!”

 

Nancy, 54, Carlsbad, CA

Sometimes it happens.

You’re going about your day nicely, you feel great and don’t think twice about any ‘health problems’ because they’re way off in the future anyway, but then all of a sudden you feel a twinge in your lower-back…

And immediately you know something’s not right.

Maybe you even begin to kid yourself into thinking that it’s nothing, that after a good night sleep it will go away on its own. But the thing is when lower back pain strikes, (and if you don’t do anything about it quick), it can leave you suffering in pain for much longer than you should ever have to.Back Pain & Sciatica

Which is exactly what happened to one of my clients, Nancy, last week…

Nancy came in to see me in a great deal of pain – back pain so bad that she couldn’t even get out of bed by herself in the morning, (not without struggling for 20 minutes anyway!).

Here’s what happened… two months ago Nancy was simply bending down to fold her laundry and put it away when all of a sudden ‘PING!’, something in her back went. And like most people who come to see me with low-back pain, she brushed it off hoping she’d wake up the next day as if it never even happened.

But the following day, her pain was still there.

Nancy’s back was still bad, but she decided to leave it a little longer as she didn’t want to bother her doctor and thought if she just rested for a few more days, the pain would ease itself.

But those days turned into weeks, and her back pain grew worse and worse – and the problem was, all of the sitting and resting she was doing to make it ‘better’, was adding pressure to her back causing a shooting pain to run down her leg, which meant very little to no walking, and even time off work…

…Also known as Sciatica.

What is Sciatica?

Sciatica is the name for pain along the sciatic nerve – the longest, largest nerve in the body. The sciatic nerve arises in the spine, passes through the buttock and then travels down the leg. You have a separate sciatic nerve in each leg.

Sciatica is most common when either a disc at the base of your spine is put under too much pressure… and it irritates a nerve that runs down your leg – often causing numbness even pins and needles as well as pain.

Sciatica can also be caused by other reasons in the hip region such as tightness in a specific muscle called the piriformis. If this is the case your doctor or physical therapist would diagnosis you with “Piriformis Syndrome”.

Piriformis syndrome is a condition in which the piriformis muscle, located in the buttock region, spasms and causes buttock pain. The piriformis muscle also can irritate the nearby sciatic nerve and cause pain, numbness and tingling along the back of the leg and into the foot (similar to sciatic pain).

Often times, many of my clients are misdiagnosed with the proper root cause of what is actually causing their sciatica pain and therefore end up suffering longer than they have to.

This is because piriformis syndrome is very similar to the sciatica pain many people feel when it is being caused by a nerve irritation and/or compression being placed on the sciatic nerve from a bulging or herniated disc in your lumbar spine.Back Pain & Sciatica

Sciatica Symptoms

Signs that indicate you may have sciatica are as followed:

  • The pain is limited to the buttock and leg on one side of your body only.
  • You have pain or numbness deep within one of your buttocks.
  • You have lower back pain.
  • You have nerve tingling, pins and needles or an electric shock down one leg sometimes.
  • The pain is a sharp prickling, burning or tingling, rather than a dull ache.
  • You have weakness in the affected leg, e.g. your leg gives way when you stand up from sitting sometimes.
  • The pain is worse when sitting or standing, but better when lying down.

Additional common causes of sciatica include:

  • Lumbar spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal in your lower back)
  • Degenerative disk disease (breakdown of disks, which act as cushions between the vertebrae)
  • Spondylolisthesis (a condition in which one vertebra slips forward over another one)
  • Pregnancy
  • Muscle spasm in the back or buttocks

Other things that may make you more likely to have sciatica include:

  • Aging (which can cause changes in the spine, like bone spurs or herniated disks
  • Diabetes
  • Being overweight
  • Not exercising regularly
  • Wearing high heels
  • Sleeping on a mattress that is too hard or too soft
  • Smoking

Your job, especially if it involves driving for long periods of time, twisting your back, or carrying heavy things

Regardless of which signs or diagnosis you may have, the pain from Sciatica is often so excruciating it makes it almost impossible to get out of the house, drive to the store and even sleep comfortably – and nearly always gets worse when you sit.

For others, the sciatica pain might be infrequent and irritating, but has the potential to get worse.

To put it simply – it’s a painful and life-limiting condition that can happen as a result of not getting your back pain seen as soon as pain strikes.

Sciatica Diagnosis

If your doctor thinks you have sciatica, you’ll get a physical exam so they can check your reflexes and see how strong your muscles are. They might have you do certain activities, like walking on your heels or toes, to see what’s causing your pain.

If your pain is severe, the doctor might order imaging tests to check for bone spurs and herniated disks. You could get tests like:

  • X-ray, which makes pictures of the inside of your body, to check for bone spurs
  • CT scan, which combines a series of X-rays to get a better look at your spinal cord and spinal nerves
  • MRI, which uses radio waves and magnets to create pictures of your insides to get a detailed look at your back and spine
  • Electromyography (EMG), which measures how fast nerve signals travel through your body, to check for things like a herniated disk

Sciatic Treatment

Most people with sciatica feel better after self-care activities or at-home remedies like:

  • Using cold or hot packs
  • Stretching
  • Taking over-the-counter pain medication

But if your pain isn’t getting better, your doctor might suggest other options like:

Medications

Your doctor might recommend a few different types of medication, including:

  • Anti-inflammatories
  • Anti-seizure medications
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Narcotics
  • Tricyclic antidepressants

Steroid Injections

Your doctor might recommend you get steroid injections, like a cortisone shot. They’ll give you a shot that has medicine to help with inflammation around the nerve, which can help reduce your pain. The effects usually last a few months, but they’ll wear off over time.

Surgery

If you have extreme pain that doesn’t get better, weakness, or a loss of bladder or bowel control, your doctor might recommend surgery. They’ll take out the bone spur or herniated disk that’s pressing on your nerves and causing your pain.

Many of our clients don’t like the idea of being prescribed more medications and definitely don’t like the idea of going under the knife.

So, they choose the best holistic choice instead…

Physical Therapy

This is where we show our clients how to do exercises that will improve their posture and make them more flexible. We also make sure the muscles that support their back get stronger by incorporating a Pilates based exercise program.

BLOG: Pilates: Is it Good for People with Lower Back Pain or Sciatica?

Along with their physical therapy treatments, we recommended four additional tips of advice to help eliminate their sciatica pain and to assure them long-term relief and the best possible chance in eliminating the fear of the sciatic pain ever coming back.


Here’s Four Tips:

1. Avoid Sitting

There’s so much ‘gossip’ that surrounds back pain. But this is FACT…you and I were not designed to sit so you should avoid sitting for any longer than is absolutely necessary. It goes against every basic, fundamental rule of the way we originally evolved as humans.

Back Pain & Sciatica

When you sit, there is approximately 10x more pressure pushing down on your spine than when you stand tall.

BLOG: Why Sitting is Taking Years Off Your Life… 4 Tips To Combat This!

And it’s because most of us slouch, or flop forward when we do sit… especially if you have a phone or tablet in your hands, meaning that the muscles in your spine (called your core muscle group) that are designed to protect you, just don’t work like they are supposed to. This causes inevitable aches, pains and stiffness (the latter being the most common in the 40+ age group).


2. Arch Your Back

Some people may benefit from performing a standing lumbar extension to quickly get pressure off the spinal nerves and rapidly reverse symptoms. This can allow you to get back to your normal activity quickly and safely.Back Pain & SciaticaAs an exercise – stand up, put your hands on your bum and lean back – hold for 10 seconds. It will be painful, but you’re helping it the long run.


3. Sleep On Your Back

When the pain is soooo bad – go to bed and lie flat with a pillow under your knees– avoid the temptation to curl up in the fetal position… this only makes it worse in the long run even though it feels nice at the times.

Back Pain & Sciatica

For many people, sleeping on their back may be the best position to relieve back pain:

  • Lay flat on your back.
  • Place a pillow underneath your knees and keep your spine neutral. The pillow is important — it works to keep that curve in your lower back.
  • You may also place a small, rolled up towel under the small of your back for added support.

How does this position help? When you sleep on your back, your weight is evenly distributed and spread across the widest area of your body. As a result, you place less strain on your pressure points. You’re also able to get better alignment of your spine.


4. Pilates

Pilates

Pilates aligns your entire body’s overall structure and supports the joints of the spine. What appears to look simple can be deceptively challenging and incredibly effective when done correctly with good form.

Pilates is a low impact exercise that creates optimal strength through muscle balance and fine-tuning neuromuscular patterns.

The optimal strength gained from a consistent Pilates practice is nonrigid, balancing strength with mobility and flexibility. It helps you move and breathe through your daily activities with more freedom and power and less pain.

BLOG: Is It Safe to Exercise with A Bad Back?

The Pilates repertoire, which includes mat and specialized equipment exercises, is made up of over 600 exercises and variations.

There’s something for everyone, whether you have a sedentary lifestyle, are a weekend warrior, are pregnant, are undergoing rehab, have anxiety, or if you’re a professional athlete.

Studies have shown that Pilates improves quality of life by having a positive effect on depression and pain, most notably decreasing back pain.

It’s commonly used as cross-training workout and recommended by doctors for overall health, injury prevention, and rehabilitative purposes.

Pilates is excellent for improving spine mobility by treating each vertebra as the individual bone while emphasizing the spine bones’ sequencing for stacking on top of each other in the right alignment.

Pilates helps to strengthen the core muscles, which in turn helps alleviate pressure in the lower back which in turn is the root cause of the sciatica pain down your leg.


So, there you have it! Avoid sitting as much as you can (the root of all evil) and four additional tips to help you alleviate the agonizing pain sciatica can bring

If you would like to discover exactly how you, or a loved one, can finally unlock the agonizing mystery of low-back pain and sciatica, and how to get back the life that you deserve, for good!... give us a call at: (760) 503-4440.

And if you know anyone who is suffering at the moment and they could benefit from this, pass our number their way to help put an end to it, quick.

Dedicated to your health,

Dr. Dawn

P.S for more back pain tips like this, click here to download our FREE tips guide with quick and simple tips to help ease low-back pain and sciatica: www.level4pt.com/back-pain/ or http://www.level4pt.com/sciatica/

FREE Back Pain Tips

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FREE Sciatica Pain Tips

Sciatica

Dawn Andalon, DPT, MTC, CPI
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