Sciatic neuralgia, also commonly referred to as sciatica, is a medical condition that can cause pain and numbness in one or both legs. This condition gets its name from the sciatic nerve, which travels from the spine to the buttocks and down the back of the leg. Damage to this nerve, typically due to inflammation of the bones or joints of the spine, is the most common source of this type of neuralgia. Treatment options for sciatic neuralgia vary widely and can include physical therapy, massage therapy, and the use of over-the-counter or prescription medications. Preventive measures such as practicing correct posture and lifting techniques can often prevent recurrences of symptoms.
Pain is both the most common as well as the most troublesome symptom of sciatic neuralgia. This pain typically begins on one side of the lower back and moves into the buttock region, then traveling through the leg, particularly the back portion of the upper leg. In some cases, hip pain is also present. This pain is often at its worst when sitting or standing for prolonged periods of time. Even something simple such as sneezing, laughing, or having a difficult bowel movement can make the pain worse.
Numbness, tingling, and weakness of the affected leg can make simple tasks such as walking difficult or even impossible in severe attacks of sciatic neuralgia. It is important to report any of these symptoms to a doctor, as these symptoms can sometimes mimic the symptoms of more serious medical conditions. The doctor will order all of the necessary tests to make sure that neuralgia is indeed the correct diagnosis.
Some treatment options for sciatic neuralgia include physical therapy or massage therapy aimed at teaching the patient mild stretching exercises that may help to relieve the pain. Over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen may be helpful as well. Doctors will sometimes prescribe narcotic pain relievers if the pain is severe and movement is significantly impaired. Once a person has had an episode of sciatica, it is common to have repeat episodes from time to time, making prevention techniques important.
Gentle exercises such as yoga can help to strengthen the muscles of the lower back and legs, making repeat episodes less likely. Practicing proper posture while sitting or standing can keep pressure off the sciatic nerve and decrease the chances of inflammation. Sleeping with the spine straight and avoiding having the neck at too much of an angle can also help to reduce the chance of future painful episodes.