More Than A Back Pain
Back pain has been growing at an enormous rate for years. When that pain turns into sciatica, the game has now changed. Sciatica is a debilitating nerve pain that travels down the leg, impacting millions of people. If left untreated, sciatica could seriously affect the quality of life, so much so that surgery is the only resort. Before turning to procedures like lumbar decompression, some simple stretches can help with pain management.
What is sciatica exactly?
What do sciatica and back pain have in common? Well, sciatica does not happen without some trouble in the lower back, particularly the spine. The spine is made up of bones called vertebrae and fibrous discs. Together, these parts protect the spinal cord. At each juncture, nerves branch out and travel to different parts of the body. Sometimes, due to arthritis, herniated discs, or injury, discs or bones press on these nerves. One such nerve is the sciatic nerve, the biggest nerve in the body. Sciatic nerves each start at the lower back and split into 2, running down the buttock to the lower leg. Sciatica, therefore, is the instance of pressing or damage to the sciatic nerve.
Common signs and the first thing to do about it
Technically, sciatica is not a condition but a symptom of another spinal-related issue. One of the clearest signs is a sharp nerve pain running down the buttock and leg. Many describe the feeling like pins and needles that can last for hours. Eventually, the pain becomes worse with movement and can even weaken the leg. Constant stretching is one of the first things someone with sciatic pain can do to ease things up. The goal is to rotate the hips, moving the pressure away from the affected nerve. These 3 stretches can bring some much-needed relief.
1. Stretch the knee to the opposite shoulder
The stretch sounds complicated. However, this is the simplest way to relieve sciatic pain. This stretch opens up the hips and glutes and can ease the pain. Start by laying on a flat surface like a yoga mat or even the bed. Make sure the legs straight and the feet are pointing to the ceiling. Bend one leg and clasp both hands around the knee. Stretch the knee across the body to the opposite shoulder, holding the position for 30-45 seconds. Return to the starting position and repeat with the opposite leg. Alternate for 3-5 reps, twice daily.
2. Flexion back stretch
The goal of this exercise is to stretch the lower back and improve spinal mobility. This stretch improves blood flow and even strengthens the core. Like the previous exercise, start flat on the floor or bed with both legs straight. Next, gently bring both knees to the chest, using the hands to enhance the stretch. Once the stretch is felt, bring the head and shoulders slightly forward. Hold the position for 15-20 seconds or as long as possible. Release, then repeat for 3-5 reps.
3. Try this simple ankle stretch
What makes this simple exercise perfect is that the stretch targets the sciatic nerve directly. Start seated upright in a chair and stretch the affected leg straight ahead. The other leg stays planted on the ground. Next, slowly point and flex the foot via the ankle. Alternate between pointing and flexing the ankle for 15-20 repetitions. Complete the exercise twice per day.
Is it time for surgery?
Stretching can help relieve sciatic pain, improve strength and flexibility. In most cases, stretching, along with pain medication and temperature therapy, is enough to deal with the pain. However, there are some cases when these techniques aren’t enough. At this point, a doctor may suggest surgery. Lumbar decompression surgery is one of the most common procedures for sciatica.
Taking the pressure off
The goal of lumbar decompression surgery is to clear up space for the nerve. A spinal surgeon will remove either a part of the affected disc or bone using minimally invasive surgery. Lumbar decompression can be either a microdiscectomy or laminectomy. The microdiscectomy removes part of the herniated disc. If the issue is spinal stenosis, part of the lamina gets removed instead.
Get sciatica under control
Sciatica can create concerning pain and discomfort. Doctors can trace almost all cases of sciatica to an underlying spinal condition. Stretching can help with reducing the pain and discomfort. If these fail, lumbar decompression can help.