Back pain is something that is just a part of daily life for many people, but if you’re trying to manage the pain without any improvement, it could be one of the 5 signs of the more serious problem of sciatica. We have the information you need to know if your back pain is related to nerve damage or compression and what you can do to reverse it in this article.
5 Clear Signs Your Back Pain Is Actually Sciatica (And How to Reverse It)
The sciatic nerve is the largest and longest in the body and it runs from the low back all the way down to the toes of both of your legs. Pain anywhere along this nerve could be a sign of sciatica, which can be caused by pinching or compression, inflammation, or damage to the sciatic nerve.
In the most severe cases of sciatica, patients are on bed rest for a long period of time with no relief from their painful symptoms. In these extreme cases, surgery may be required to correct the interior of a vertebral disk that has ruptured, has a lesion, or a bulge that is causing pressure on the sciatic nerve.
Excessive twisting, weight bearing, or straining of the back can all lead to disk problems that can lead to sciatica pain. Seek the guidance of a medical professional if you are concerned that your back pain is lasting longer than a week, is getting worse, or is limiting your range of motion.
1. Unstable walking
Sciatica can affect the function of the lower legs and feet and a pinching or blockage of the nerve can lead to numbness, tingling, and in some severe cases, total sensory block, which can feel like having a prosthetic limb. With this sciatica problem, the patient may have had lower back pain and also has difficulty walking or standing for long periods of time, may stumble often when walking, or may feel like they need the help of a cane to feel more stable.
In these cases, the patient with back pain will experience a severe pain episode, but then the pain goes away suddenly. Unfortunately, the pain going away is a sign of a more severe problem because it means that there is no transmission of pain being sent from the point of the pinched nerve either down to the foot or back to the brain to signal a problem.
2. Pain when coughing or sneezing more often
Researchers at the Department of Neurosurgery at Otago University Medical School in New Zealand say ‘One of the most characteristic signs in sciatica and low-back pain due to disc protrusion is exacerbation of pain on coughing or sneezing. This is of course a feature of ‘root pain’ in general.’
It’s a clear sign of sciatica if your lower back feels stiff and the muscles are rigid and you also experience pain when couching or sneezing. The back muscles are rigid to try to act as a protector for the spine and the sciatica nerve, almost like a splint would be for a broken leg.
3. Difficulty raising your leg straight out
The New Zealand researchers also looked at patients who had limitations on their range of motion in lifting a leg straight out in front of them or out in front and slightly at an angle to the right or left. They say that patients who experience pain when raising a leg straight out, the pain is ‘due to spasm of the hamstring muscles, and this would seem to result from a reflex-mechanism initiated by increases in the strains within the affected nerve root.’
4. Pain can be severe and sharp
Some back pain feels like a warm sensation, tightness, or throbbing in an area the size of the palm of your hand, and this is a sign of typical muscle strain from overexertion. This pain is much less severe than sciatica pain and will subside with rest. A clear sign of sciatica back pain is a sharp, intense pain that feels like you were zapped with a live electrical wire.
The good news for sufferers of this kind of low back pain is that sciatica pain can be lessened and even reversed. A study of chiropractic manipulation treatment for the relief of sciatica pain found that ‘Patients receiving active manipulations enjoyed significantly greater relief of local and radiating acute LBP (lower back pain), spent fewer days with moderate-to-severe pain, and consumed fewer drugs for the control of pain.’
5. Pain travels down one leg
Shooting, travelling, or radiating sharp pain is another clear sign that your back pain is related to sciatica and not to a pulled muscle. The sciatica nerve extends to the toes and the entire length of the nerve can carry the sensation of sciatica pain. Pain that travels in the body is usually nerve related.
Fortunately, some simple yoga poses that involve bending at the waist can help reverse sciatica pain. A hamstring stretch done by sitting with your legs out in front of you can loosen muscles of the hips and lower back to ease pressure and tightness against the sciatic nerve.