I'll never forget the feeling when I was pregnant. I was in my final trimester, and one day, I woke up, kicked my feet over the bed, stood up and went to walk to the bathroom. The pain shooting from my back, down my leg into my foot was the worst pain I had ever felt.
I remember thinking, “What is happening, and why am in such pain?" I immediately fired off a MyChart message to my doctor, and she replied, “Ohh, you're probably suffering from some sciatica." Thankfully, it didn't last long for me, but it turns out that sciatica is actually very common. Who knew?
My mom, Jenn from the Jeff & Jenn Morning Show and even singer Adele suffer from sciatica. To get the low-down on lower back pain and sciatica, I checked in with Jared Crasto, MD, an orthopedic spine surgeon with The Christ Hospital Joint & Spine Physicians.
Sciatica myth busting
First thing's first. What exactly is sciatica? Dr. Crasto explained, “Sciatica is pain, numbness and tingling that carries down the leg. Though many people think this is due to compression of the sciatic nerve, this is typically a misnomer. It's much more common that the pain comes from a pinched nerve in the spine instead of the sciatic nerve. The medical term for this is radiculopathy. The most common causes are lumbar disc herniation, lumbar spinal stenosis and lumbar spondylolisthesis."
Can sciatica pain be treated?
I remember when I had my issues with sciatica, my doctor told me about some stretches I could do to help relieve the pain. Turns out, there are many treatment options.
Dr. Crasto said when it comes to treatments, “We first start with physical therapy exercise—most actually focus on strengthening the abdominal core muscles, which strengthens the tension band in the front taking stress of the back. Next is medications such as NSAIDs—anti-inflammatories including Advil, Aleve, Ibuprofen, Naproxen and others that are sometimes prescribed. There are certain medications targeted at the nerves as well, such as Gabapentin or Pregabalin, that can help."
If your sciatic pain isn't too extreme, there are some simple exercises you could do to improve your core strength. Core strengthening exercises include crunches, planks, oblique sit-ups, leg lifts. All of these can help strengthen the core and offer relief from back pain and radicular leg pain. Dr. Crasto also said, “Anti-inflammatories and supportive chairs, beds or car seats can help in a pinch. Supporting the curve of the lumbar spine helps to maintain appropriate alignment and prevent pain from bulging discs that tends to be worse when being in a slouched position or bending forward at the waist."
Seek professional help for sciatica
If these suggestions don't help with your sciatica, it might be time for you to see a specialist. Dr. Crasto mentioned a few red flags that you should look out for.
He suggested, “These include progressive lower extremity numbness or weakness, loss of bowel or bladder control, or inability to ambulate. If these symptoms progress rapidly and a doctor visit cannot be obtained, then you should go to the ER. In general, if you are experiencing 'sciatica' that fails to respond to over-the-counter medications and therapy exercises for more than 2-3 weeks, it is a good idea to be seen by a spine physician."