Does lower back pain sometimes get on your nerves? If you have pain that shoots out from your lower back, travels to your buttock and then down the back of one of your legs through your thighs and calves, you may have sciatica.
Up to 40% of North Americans, mostly men, report having had sciatica at least once in their lifetime, most commonly between the ages of 40 and 50.
Sciatica pain is unpredictable. It can flare up anywhere along the sciatic nerve pathway like an excruciating electric shock, or feel milder, like a steady ache or burning. It may cause tingling or muscle weakness in the foot on the affected side or it may send pain to one part of your leg and tingling to another – all at the same time.
For some people, the pain from sciatica is severe and debilitating. For others, it may just be an intermittent inconvenience. For some, the pain gets worse when sitting; others find standing up more painful.
Some activities that may increase the severity of sciatic pain are prolonged sitting or standing, or standing after sitting in a lower position, such as standing up after sitting on the toilet. Even coughing, sneezing, laughing, bending slightly backward, or passing a hard bowel movement can make the pain worse.
Sciatica is the result of an irritated sciatic nerve but usually no specific injury triggers the onset of sciatica.
However, the pain does sometime suddenly appear after a person lifts something heavy or moves quickly. About 90% of sciatica is caused by a herniated disc.
Other common triggers are lumbar spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the spinal canal in the lower back), degenerative disc disease (a breakdown of the discs that cushion the space between the vertebrae), spondylosthesis (a condition where one vertebra slips forward over another one), a ruptured disc (the outer edge of a disc ruptures, reducing the disc’s shock-absorbency qualities), and piriformis syndrome (the sciatic nerve becomes deeply trapped in the piriformis buttock muscle).
Some risk factors for developing sciatica are age-related bone conditions, such as osteoarthritis and fractures caused by osteoporosis. Excess weight, especially when localized in the abdominal area, increases the stress on the spine.
So does sleeping on a soft, unsupportive mattress.
Any jobs that include twisting your back or carrying heavy loads increase your risk.
Since prolonged sitting and a sedentary lifestyle are also risk factors, driving truck puts you at a high risk of developing sciatica.
Although it’s not always possible to prevent sciatica from occurring or recurring, acting on the following suggestions will help protect your back. Exercise regularly to maintain your overall health – particularly your back’s health. Concentrate on your core muscles – the abdominal and lower back muscles that are essential for maintaining proper posture and alignment.
Maintain proper posture when sitting. In your rig, use a lumbar support or place a small pillow, rolled towel, or a paper towel roll between your seat and the small of your back to maintain its normal curve.
Outside your rig, sit in a chair with armrests, good lower back support, and a swivel base. Always keep your knees and hips level.
Practice good body mechanics. When standing for a long time, occasionally raise one foot to rest on a stool or small box. When lifting something heavy, use the muscles in your lower extremities to carry the weight; move straight up and down, keeping your back straight, bending only at the knees. Hold the load close to your body; avoid lifting and twisting at the same time. Get a hand if the object is awkward or heavy.
If you experience sciatica, you can probably manage it on your own. You’ll heal better if you keep moving. Just don’t repeat the action that first triggered the pain.
Even though a day or two of rest may temporarily provide some relief, your signs and symptoms will worsen if you remain inactive longer.
So, try applying cold packs for the first few days (for about 20 minutes at a time). After a couple of days, apply heat, using hot packs, a heat lamp, or a heating pad on low. Slow, steady stretching may relieve nerve root compression (for about 30 seconds each time).
Use pain-relievers like ibuprofen and naproxen as necessary. Acupuncture or chiropractic care may also help.
Mild sciatica usually goes away on its own…eventually. However, see your doctor immediately if you experience sudden, severe pain in your lower back or leg, and numbness or muscle weakness in your leg, or if the pain appears after a violent injury or accident, or if you lose control of your bowels or bladder. In very rare cases, sciatica indicates more serious medical conditions like a blood clot, tumour or abscess.
Always remember to watch your back and keep on trucking.
Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant, and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.