Pain that starts in your back and radiates down your leg is commonly caused by compression of the sciatic nerve. Sciatic nerve pain, or sciatica, is usually a temporary problem, but it can cause a great deal of discomfort while it lasts. While you wait for the pain to go away, you can take steps at home to make yourself feel better.
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The most common symptom of sciatica is pain that begins in your lower back and travels down your buttock and the back of your leg, according to the Mayo Clinic. Some people may only have mild pain, but others can experience sharp, stabbing pain that causes intense discomfort. Your leg or foot may also tingle, burn or feel weak, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Most of the time, symptoms only affect one leg.
Sciatica is often caused by a herniated, or torn, disk in the lower back that presses on the sciatic nerve, according to the Mayo Clinic. Other problems, such as a slipped vertebra, narrowing of the spine or muscle spasms, can cause sciatica. Accidents, injuries and tumors are sometimes to blame for sciatic nerve pain. Sciatica may also be the result of normal wear and tear associated with aging, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
Hot or cold compresses may help to ease your pain. Ice is most helpful during the first two to three days you experience symptoms, according to the National Institutes of Health, and after that, heat may be effective. You can stay off your feet and rest for a few days while the inflammation goes down, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, but you should begin gentle stretching and exercises as soon as possible. Over-the-counter pain medications can also help, but talk to your doctor before you use them on a regular basis.
Your doctor may recommend physical therapy as a part of your treatment plan. Anti-inflammatory medications, muscle relaxers or pain medications may also be prescribed. Steroid injections may help you get temporary relief from the pain, according to the Mayo Clinic. If your pain is caused by a herniated disk and continues after other treatment options have been exhausted, your doctor might recommend surgery to remove a portion of the disk.
If you lose bladder or bowel control, or develop numbness and tingling in your groin or genital region, seek immediate medical help, warns the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Also, see a doctor immediately if your pain comes on suddenly and is accompanied by numbness and weakness, or if your symptoms begin after an injury, cautions the Mayo Clinic.