How Can I Tell if I Injured My Sciatic Nerve?
You have lower back pain that radiates down into your leg—is it sciatica? Well, don’t ask us—ask your doctor!
No, seriously—ask your doctor.
But if you’re waiting for an appointment, here are a few tips to help you determine if you could have injured your sciatic nerve and how long it may take to heal.
Sciatica, which is injury of the sciatic nerve, affects a lot of people. But the symptoms can be confusing. How do you know if your sciatic nerve is injured and not some other nerve in your back? If it is injured, how is it healed? Most importantly, how can you avoid it?
We’ve got your (injured) back.
What is the Sciatic Nerve?
The sciatic nerve is a large one that runs from the lower back down through the buttocks and back of both legs. Injury or pressure on this nerve causes pain that can spread into the buttocks, hip and leg.
If you have injured your sciatic nerve, it is most common to have pain radiating down one leg only.
Causes of Sciatic Nerve Injury
There are several causes of sciatica. Of course, lifting weights improperly is one of them, but read the remainder. Your form may be spot on, but you may have injured yourself in another way.
- Herniated Disk
In about 90% of cases sciatica is caused by a herniated disc. Disks act like cushions between the vertebrae of your spine. These disks get weaker as you age and become more vulnerable to injury. This can relate to lifting, but you could have also tried to avoid that second trip to get the rest of the groceries and done this to yourself. Youth is fleeting, intellect is not.
- Natural Wear & Tear
While we’re talking about fleeting youth, let’s talk about normal ‘wear and tear’. Good ol’ fashioned use of the vertebrae can lead to a narrowing of the spinal canal over time. It’s called spinal stenosis and can put pressure on sciatic nerve roots. How old we talkin’ here, doc? This is common in those over 60.
A lot of pregnant women may have experienced the spasm of this muscle, and while mostly women suffer from it, it’s not just because of pregnancy. The piriformis is a muscle in the buttocks. It connects the lower spine to the upper thighbone and runs directly over the sciatic nerve. Long distance running, excess weight, and long periods of walking can cause this muscle to spasm. When it spasms, it affects the sciatic nerve through pressure.
Other less common causes are muscle inflammation and infection. Don’t forget injury—you could have injured another part of your body which indirectly caused injury or pressure on your sciatic nerve. Additionally, strenuous lifting, sitting for prolonged periods of time or driving often accompanied by vibrations can also be causes. Taller people, people who smoke, those over 45 and mentally stressed are all common sciatica sufferers.
Symptoms of Sciatica
The most common and important symptom is radiating leg pain. It may spread from the lower back through the hips and bum, but it is most intense in your leg.
Diagnosis of Sciatic Nerve Injury
Diagnosis to determine if you’ve injured your sciatic nerve can be fairly simple. An exam where you bend, squat and lift your leg can help your doctor determine if you’ve got sciatica.
If not, imaging with contrast can isolate the nerve to diagnose.
Treatment of Sciatica
In most cases, time heals sciatica—just about two weeks. Anti-inflammatory drugs can also assist.
Heating and icing the lower back every couple hours and stretching the lower back can help provide comfort during this phase.
If you are in significant pain, steroids can be injected to assist in reducing inflammation— and in worst case scenarios, surgery can assist in herniated disks or other spinal issues causing the sciatica.
How to Prevent Sciatica
There are some very simple ways to avoid sciatica in the future.
- Exercise regularly to keep your lower back muscles strong.
- Always bend at the knees when lifting.
- Sit with good posture and don’t sit for too long.
So, there you go. Now, you’ll know for certain that you’ve injured your sciatic nerve if you go to your doctor. So go. Right now. Or—whenever your appointment is.