Definition of Sciatica

Sciatica refers to an inflammation of the sciatic nerve, resulting in intense pain along one of the two sciatic nerves at the posterior of each leg. The primary sensation of discomfort is typically located in the buttock and thigh on the same side, and in certain instances of heightened nerve irritation, the pain may extend to the foot.

The pain from the sciatic nerve is often intermittent. The inflammation tends to spontaneously calm down after a few days. However, if nothing is done to relieve the nerve, the inflammation becomes more frequent and can sometimes become permanent and disabling.

Several types of lumbar issues can be the cause of sciatica. In the majority of cases, a herniated disc is the cause, but sciatica can also be triggered by discopathy or degeneration of the disc, the formation of osteophytes or "parrot beaks" on the vertebrae (osteoarthritis), or due to spinal canal stenosis or foraminal stenosis.

Causes of Sciatica

Sciatica is a symptom resulting from issues in the lumbar vertebrae, such as a herniated disc, discopathy, osteoarthritis, or stenosis. Identifying the cause of sciatica involves understanding the root of these problems.

It's important to note that inflammation of the sciatic nerve is not constant. This means that even with the same pressure on the nerve caused by a hernia or other factors, the nerve may function normally without pain or become inflamed, leading to discomfort. Combating inflammation is therefore a way to quickly alleviate sciatic nerve pain.

A herniated disc occurs when the cells of the intervertebral disc age, dry out, and are no longer regenerated and replaced by new cells. The peripheral tissues of the disc then lose the ability to contain the disc's nucleus, causing it to protrude and form a hernia. The same accelerated cellular aging process is responsible for sciatica triggered by discopathy or arthritic degeneration.

The primary causes of this accelerated cellular aging process are insufficient oxygen, water, and nutrient supply, as well as poor carbon dioxide removal. These functions are typically carried out by the circulatory system and, consequently, the blood. Although vertebral discs are avascular (not directly supplied with blood), they rely on sufficient blood flow for oxygen, nutrient, and water supply, as well as carbon dioxide removal. The avascular nature of intervertebral discs makes them particularly vulnerable to inadequate blood flow.

Healthy vertebral discs have a high water content in their center, in the nucleus. A well-hydrated nucleus is essential for disc function. The water content in the disc is not constant and varies on a twenty-four-hour cycle. It gradually dehydrates during the day and rehydrates during rest, particularly at night. Adequate blood circulation in the back is therefore essential to allow the disc to replenish its water content (healthy blood is composed of 90% water). If water is lacking, the disc dehydrates and compresses.

A pinched disc is one that has lost some or all of its shock-absorbing capabilities. The loss of this property accelerates its aging process. Similar to an underinflated tire deteriorating more quickly, a poorly hydrated vertebral disc faces a similar fate.

In addition to aging and dehydration, mechanical stresses on the disc contribute to its deterioration. A healthy disc can withstand significant pressure when supported by relaxed and balanced musculature. However, the back muscles often bear numerous unconscious contractions, preventing them from fulfilling their role. This shifts forces onto the vertebral disc. Furthermore, these contractions alter the natural postures and movements of the back. Lastly, these contractions are often more pronounced on one side than the other, causing imbalances in the pressure on the disc, leading to local pinching, protrusions, hernias, and discopathies that may result in sciatica.

What is a nerve?

The peripheral nervous system is made up of billions of nerves forming a complex network, connecting each part of the body to the central nervous system. Nerves are responsible for transmitting nerve impulses from various parts of the body or conveying "instructions" from the central nervous system to the limbs and organs. Nerves are often present in pairs, identical on the left and right sides of the body.

Sensations such as touch, pressure, and pain are carried to the brain by nerves. Nerves also execute commands from the central nervous system, such as blinking or withdrawing a hand from a heat source. They are thus divided into three main categories based on their primary function:

  • Sensory nerves: Transport sensory information to the brain for interpretation.
  • Motor nerves: Control movements by transmitting impulses from the brain to one or more muscles that carry out the commands.
  • Mixed nerves: Fulfill both of the above functions and represent the majority of nerves.

Where is the sciatic nerve located?

Although the term "sciatic nerve" is often used in the singular, it is present on each side of the body. The two sciatic nerves originate at the base of the spine, specifically near the lumbo-sacral vertebrae. Between each vertebra is a pair of nerves that directly connects the spinal cord to a region of the body through a main nerve. This main nerve then divides into smaller branches, covering a larger area. Spinal nerves, directly connected to the spinal cord, have both sensory and motor roots, making them mixed nerves.

Five pairs of spinal nerves combine to form the sciatic nerve, which descends to the foot, passing through the buttock and calf of each leg. These nerves, the longest in the human body, serve the regions of the buttocks, hips, pelvis, and legs. They are directly connected to the vertebrae L4, L5, S1, S2, and S3, also known as the sacral plexus. Like all nerves, sciatic nerves are composed of long fibers (axons) wrapped in a gelatinous substance (myelin sheath) that facilitates the transmission of nerve impulses. The sciatic nerve is unique as it is actually comprised of two nerves enclosed in the same sheath. These nerves, namely the tibial nerve (internal popliteal sciatic nerve) and the common fibular nerve (external popliteal sciatic nerve), divide just above the knee; one serves the calf, and the other continues to the foot, where it becomes the plantar nerve. Injuries to the external popliteal sciatic nerve are common, especially in sports accidents or knee injuries.

The sciatic nerve, through the leg muscles, controls all movement of the lower limbs from the hip. Damage to the sciatic nerve could cause significant pain, loss of sensation, and even paralysis of the muscles and joints served by the sciatic nerve. The closer the injury is to the origin of the nerve (spinal cord), the greater the potential extent of paralysis. If only one branch of the sciatic nerve is affected, the extent of damage is generally less. Sciatic nerve problems are common and have various causes: nerve degeneration, nerve compression, herniated disc, osteoarthritis, etc. These complications can lead to pain and difficulty in mobilising. For this reason, any suspicious pain in the lower part of the body, especially if present on one side, should be examined by a doctor. Simple compression of the sciatic nerve could result in necrosis of surrounding muscles or even the "death" of the nerve.

Sciatica: Risk factors

Sciatica often affects individuals with osteoarthritis or certain forms of arthritis, as well as pregnant women due to the weight of the belly and increased hormone secretion. Engaging in sports or having a job that involves lifting heavy loads, being too sedentary or overweight, maintaining poor posture, or having weak abdominal muscles are also risk factors. Sciatica generally disappears within a few weeks, but it has the drawback of reappearing if nothing is done to prevent it. Traditionally, sciatica is treated with rest, pain relievers, and the application of cold or heat to the painful area. However, LeMauxDeDos offers natural, non-invasive, and long-lasting solutions.

Home Treatment We Recommend

Beyond stretching, there are impactful home-based treatment approaches that can effectively alleviate lower back pain caused by sciatica. Among these, spine decompression and acupressure stand out as two highly effective methods.

lower back decompression

Spine Decompression

Sciatica issues can be addressed through spine decompression, a technique involving gentle stretching of the spine to relieve pressure and tension. Various home methods can be employed:

  • Inversion Table: Using an inversion table allows for hanging upside down, facilitating spine decompression. Begin with a mild angle and gradually increase it over time, following instructions carefully and avoiding overexertion.
  • Yoga Poses: Incorporating specific yoga poses like downward dog and standing forward bend can contribute to spine decompression. Emphasize proper form and avoid poses that cause pain or discomfort.
  • Foam Roller: Lie on a foam roller positioned beneath your lower back, rolling back and forth slowly. This technique allows the roller to massage and stretch the back muscles, addressing sciatica concerns.
  • Nubax Trio: The Nubax Trio is a recommended option that provides gentle yet effective controlled spinal traction, utilizing your body weight to address sciatica concerns.
acupressure for lower back pain

Acupressure for L4-L5 Degeneration

Acupressure mats have become increasingly popular for addressing discomfort associated with sciatica and lower back pain. These mats, featuring spikes or nodes, aim to stimulate acupressure points linked to the specific challenges posed by sciatic issues. Here's a guide on using an acupressure mat at home to effectively manage sciatica-related discomfort:

  1. Place the Mat on a Flat Surface:
    Set the acupressure mat on a level surface, like a bed or the floor, creating a supportive environment for targeting sciatica-related discomfort.
  2. Lie Down on the Mat:
    Position yourself on the mat, aligning your back with the spikes or nodes, with a focus on addressing the unique challenges posed by sciatica. Begin with short sessions and gradually extend the duration.
  3. Relax and Breathe Deeply:
    Engage in slow, deep breaths to promote relaxation, especially in the muscles surrounding the sciatic region.
  4. Move Your Body:
    Gently shift your body to alleviate tension or pain areas, taking a targeted approach to address discomfort associated with sciatica.
  5. Focus on Your Lower Back:
    Dedicate extra attention to the acupressure points corresponding to the lower back, specifically targeting and providing relief for sciatica-related discomfort.
  6. Use Regularly:
    Integrate the acupressure mat into your routine consistently, ideally incorporating daily sessions to manage discomfort stemming from sciatic challenges.

It's important to note that while acupressure mats can offer relief, they should complement professional medical care, especially when dealing with conditions like sciatica. Consult with your healthcare provider before incorporating an acupressure mat into your routine, particularly if you have underlying medical conditions or injuries related to sciatica.

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