The sciatic nerve, along with the vagus one, is the longest nerve in our body. In fact , it originates in the lower back and reaches down to the foot. However, when inflamed it causes severe pain in the lumbar area that spreads through the buttock and legs. It is what we call “sciatica” : a non-serious pathology which, however, prevents us from carrying out most of our daily activities, including the most banal ones. Let’s see how exactly this inflammation manifests itself and what we can do to keep it at bay.
Sciatic nerve, its anatomy
The sciatic, or ischial, nerve, along with the vagus one, is the longest and largest nerve in our body. It arises in the lower part of the spine (i.e. in the lumbar area from the foramina L4-L5-S1-S2-S3), crosses the buttock (below the piriformis muscle), the thigh and the knee . At this point it is divided into two branches:
internal popliteal sciatic : affecting the area of the calf and sole of the foot.
external popliteal sciatic : the one that allows us to raise the toe and perform the dorsal flexion, essential for walking.
In addition, the sciatic nerve is very important both for the sensitivity of the leg (from pain to thermal and tactile sensation) and for its motility .
Sciatic nerve inflammation: what it is
Inflammation of the sciatic nerve, also called ” sciatica ” or ” sciatica “, is generally caused by the compression of this nerve or the spinal nerves from which it originates.
But making the diagnosis of sciatic nerve inflammation isn’t difficult. In fact, the physical examination performed by the doctor is sufficient .
Instead if you want to investigate the causes that trigger this painful inflammation, the patient will have to undergo an MRI and, if necessary, also electromyography . The treatment of inflammation depends on the severity of the symptoms and the cause that generates it.
This inflammation is easier for people over the age of 40 and is more common in men.
Sciatic nerve inflammation: causes
Generally when the sciatic nerve becomes inflamed it is because this, or one of the spinal nerves, is subjected to compression , which in turn generates painful irritative effects. In addition, there are many pathologies that can generate compression of the sciatic nerve. Among the most common we have:
- lumbosacral disc herniation
- protrusion / hernia
- degenerative lumbosacral disc disease
- vertebral lumbosacral stenosis, or the narrowing of a part of the spinal canal within which there is the spinal cord
- lumbosacral foraminal stenosis: occurs when there is a narrowing of the small channels through which the roots of the spinal nerves pass
- lumbosacral spondylolisthesis : it is a pathology that causes one vertebra to slide over the other
- piriformis syndrome : indicates that the piriformis muscle compresses the sciatic nerve thus generating pain and discomfort. Generally this syndrome occurs due to trauma or contracture
- spinal tumor along the lumbosacral tract of the vertebral column: the expanding cell masses push on the spinal cord and / or on the roots of the spinal nerves, thus causing compression
- pregnancy : when gestation is at an advanced stage, the uterus, at its maximum volume due to the presence of the fetus, can compress the sciatic nerve
- traumatic lesions of the sciatic nerve : these are generally caused by displaced fractures of the bones of the thigh or leg that can even cause the sciatic nerve to be severed.
Sciatic nerve inflammation: risk factors
Let’s see what are the conditions that can predispose to inflammation of the sciatic nerve to understand how to prevent them:
- aging : with the passage of age the vertebral column undergoes physiological changes that predispose it to the development of herniated discs
- obesity : excessive weight, especially if prolonged over time, can modify the structure of the spinal column, thus exposing it to the development of herniated discs
- posture : incorrect posture (sitting uncomfortably, sitting for many hours at the desk) can favor the development of herniated discs
- sedentary : those who do little movement are more likely to have sciatica
- spinal arthritis : pathology that makes it vulnerable to compression of the spinal nerves
- diabetes : a complication of diabetes is diabetic neuropathy , or the deterioration of peripheral nerves, including sciatic nerves
- hip replacement : when the sciatic nerve is severed involuntarily during hip replacement surgery. Fortunately, this is a very rare occurrence.
Sciatic nerve inflammation: symptoms
Generally sciatica (i.e. inflammation of the sciatic nerve) is almost always unilateral and pain affects one of the areas crossed by the sciatic nerve:
the lower back, the buttock, the back of the thigh, the leg and the foot.
In addition, compression of the sciatic nerve can be caused by several factors that also determine different types and degrees of pain :
Other symptoms that accompany sciatica , especially in a second phase, are:
- motor difficulty
- altered skin sensitivity
- muscle weakness.
These symptoms are felt in areas other than that affected by pain. So you can feel severe pain in the buttock but experience the tingling sensation in the thigh and muscle weakness in the leg.
The complications of inflammation of the sciatic nerve are directly proportional to the level of compression of the nerve itself. If compression is severe or treatment is inadequate, the following may occur:
- insensitivity of the affected limb
- muscle weakness
- loss of control of the anal and visceral sphincters.
When to seek medical attention
But when is it important to seek medical attention ? What symptoms should we keep under control? It is necessary to contact your doctor when the symptoms:
- they get worse for no apparent reason
- the symptoms appear after a violent back injury
- the classic symptoms of inflammation are superimposed by others such as tingling, poor control of the anal and bladder sphincter.
The diagnosis of inflammation of the sciatic nerve is based on the anamnesis , that is, on the story of the symptoms made by the patient, and on the physical examination . If this is not sufficient, the patient must undergo the following instrumental analyzes to understand the causes and thus identify the appropriate treatment.
- spine X-rays : allow to identify, if very evident, herniated discs, vertebral stenosis, foraminal stenosis
- lumbosacral magnetic resonance and / or CT scan : allow the doctor to identify, at an early stage, spinal tumors, herniated discs, vertebral stenosis, foraminal stenosis
- electromyography : it is used in neurological diagnostics for the evaluation of pathologies affecting the peripheral nervous system and the muscular apparatus along the sciatic nerve.
The treatment of inflammation of the sciatic nerve varies according to the severity of the symptoms and the causes that generate it.
In fact, when the inflammation is mild, rest is sufficient until the pain disappears and the correction of any incorrect postures .
Even the osteopath can be a valid remedy to alleviate the symptoms of sciatica. Instead, when the causes are clinically important and the inflammation does not pass with rest , the administration of drugs and / or physiotherapy sessions (exercises aimed at improving posture, strengthening the muscles and flexibility of the spine) becomes necessary or, in extreme cases, surgery .
Sciatic nerve: when surgery is needed
- inflammation is caused by lumbosacral disc herniation, lumbosacral spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis , which did not respond adequately to the treatments carried out
- suffering from the sciatic nerve is caused by a spinal tumor affecting the lumbosacral tract of the spine.
In addition to rest, especially from sports, you can apply cold compresses alternating with warm compresses on the painful area and do daily stretching exercises to stretch the back muscles.
Yoga for pain relief
Sciatic nerve: prevention
To prevent inflammation of the sciatic nerve, it is recommended to change some wrong habits to protect your body. In particular we must pay the utmost attention:
- when lifting weights
- to posture , especially when we are sitting
- the position in which we sleep (avoid the prone position and favor the supine one or on the side with bent knees and a pillow between the legs)
- physical exercise which must be constant, regular and balanced. Excellent movement in water because it does not overload the joints. The absence of motor activity, however, predisposes to inflammation of the sciatic nerve.
Sciatica: prevention at the table
We can also prevent sciatica at the table by following simple but effective precautions. Meanwhile, we must remember to drink a lot because proper hydration keeps the muscles healthy and helps the elimination of waste.
In addition, ginger is a natural analgesic: if we add it fresh to our dishes, the benefit is assured. As always, fruit, vegetables and foods that contain Vitamin B are also fundamental .
Sciatica and Vitamin B12
Recent scientific research would correlate inflammation of the sciatic nerve with a deficiency of Vitamin B12 .
In fact, this contributes in an essential way to the production of myelin , a complex of various proteins that make up a layer of fatty film, a sort of “sheath” that wraps the nerves with the aim of “isolating” them.
If this coating is depleted, the pain may be felt, and even violently. So the deficiency of Vitamin B12 could also cause a deficiency in the regeneration of cells and nerve linings .
Sciatica: homeopathic remedies
When the cause of inflammation of the sciatic nerve is cold or humidity , the most suitable homeopathic remedy is Rhus toxicodendron .
Instead, the Nux Vomica acts on pain and the feeling of fragility. In addition, it is also excellent for pain in the musculoskeletal system, and for rheumatism .
External Link: Sciatica nerve