Sciatica is one of the worst physical ailments you can come across and it is advised to get sciatica treatment as soon as possible. If you delay in getting treatment then you’ll be able to prevent the progression of the disease. Sciatica isn’t difficult to diagnose and usually, non-surgical methods are used to treat sciatica. Surgery may be needed if the underlying causes of the disease become too severe or if the patient starts experiencing difficulty in walking. In this article, we will discuss how sciatica is diagnosed and all the treatments for sciatica pain.
Most of the time the problem of sciatica is diagnosed through a physical exam. During the sciatica exam, your doctor will check how strong your muscles are and how well your reflexes work. You may be asked to perform different activities during the physical exam to check for the level of muscle degeneration. Let’s start learning more about Sciatica diagnoses and treatment.
Methods of Diagnosing Sciatica
A lot of people may be having sciatica problems but won’t experience any kind of symptoms. A person can have herniated disks or bone spurs that can be found using imaging tests or x-rays. If a doctor is diagnosing sciatica, then they won’t recommend an imaging test until your pain is too severe or if the pain persists even after medication. Here’s a list of common imaging tests:
- X-Ray: A full X-Ray of your spine can reveal any anomaly in your spine such as an overgrowth of bone (also known as a bone spur). This overgrown bone can press on the sciatic nerve which may cause sciatica pain.
- MRI: MRI is another type of imaging test and the procedure uses powerful magnets and radio waves. Using them provides cross-sectional images of your spine. An MRI produces detailed images of bone and soft tissues, so if you have a problem with herniated disk then it will be revealed using MRI.
- CT-Scan: If your doctor suggests you get a CT-Scan, then you will have a contrast dye injected into your spinal canal before the procedure is taken. The contrast dye then circulates around your spinal cord and spinal nerves, this dye will show clearly on the scan.
- Electromyography (EMG): This is another type of test that is used to diagnose sciatica. This test measures the electrical impulses of the nerves and the responses of your muscle. EMG can confirm if your nerve is being compressed by herniated disks.
Treatment of Sciatica Pain
If you’ve been diagnosed with sciatica then you can make a number of self-care measures. If your pain doesn’t get better with lifestyle changes then you should follow some of the specific treatments.
One of the primary treatments of sciatica is medication. If your pain gets better with medication then you won’t have to move onto surgeries. Here are the most common types of drugs that are prescribed for sciatica pain:
- Muscle relaxants
- Tricyclic antidepressants
- Anti-seizure medication
- Physical Therapy
If your pain starts improving by following a medication course, your doctor can suggest a tailor-made rehabilitation program to help you improve the condition of your back.
Physical therapy includes exercises to fix your posture, strengthen the muscles supporting your back which also improves your overall flexibility.
- Steroid Injections
In some very specific cases, your doctor can suggest you an injection of corticosteroid medication in the area including the nerve root. The main aim of corticosteroids is to reduce pain by suppressing any kind of inflammation around your nerve. The effects of steroid injection will wear off in a few months.
Steroid injections can be quite risky so you can take a limited amount of injections. Your symptoms can even worsen if you take the steroids injections too often.
Surgery is the last resort of treating sciatica. If you aren’t seeing any kind of positive effects by using the medication, physical therapy, and lifestyle changes then surgery might be the only option left.
If your nerve irritation causes weakness in the legs, losing control of bowel movements, or bladder control, then surgery is the ideal treatment of sciatica. Surgeons can remove the bone spur or the portion of the herniated disk that is pressed on the sciatic nerve.
Lifestyle Changes or Home Remedies for Sciatica Pain
Self-care measures are highly crucial in sciatica. If you can make the much-needed lifestyle changes then you can improve your condition. Proper resting is also important for some relief, but prolonged inactivity can lead to worsening of your signs and symptoms. Other self-care treatments are:
- Cold Packs: Cold massaging is really important, you might find relief in your pain by placing a cold pack on the affected area for up to minutes several times a day. Use an ice pack or a packet of frozen peas wrapped in a clean towel.
- Hot Packs: After you do cold massaging on the affected area, wait for 2-3 days and start doing a hot treatment. Use hot packs or a heating pad on the lowest setting. If you keep on having pain, you should keep switching between cold and hot packs regularly.
- Stretching: Stretching exercises for your lower back are extremely helpful for sciatica pain and they will help you in relieving nerve root compression. You need to make sure to avoid jerking, bouncing, or twisting during stretching exercises. Try to hold on to each stretching pose for at least 3o seconds.
- Over-the-Counter Medicines: Pain relievers such as ibuprofen and naproxen sodium (Aleve) help relieve sciatica pain.