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What you need to know about back pain and sciatica

Chronic pain is something that affects millions of people. Some cases can be traced to a specific injury but others have an apparent cause. One of the most common types of chronic pain is lower back pain. If you suffer from chronic lower back pain, there are some things you can do to find relief. 

Chronic Back Pain

Common causes of back pain

Acute back pain comes on suddenly and is often caused by a fall or heavy lifting. When that pain lasts more than three months, it is called chronic pain. Common causes of long-term back pain include:

  • Muscle or ligament strain: repeated heavy lifting or awkward movement can strain the muscles and ligaments in your back, particularly if you are not in good physical condition. 
  • Disk issues: Disks are the cushions in your spine and if they bulge or rupture they can press on a nerve causing pain. 
  • Arthritis: Osteoarthritis in particular can cause pain in the lower back. 
  • Skeletal irregularities: If your spine curves irregularly it can cause chronic discomfort. 
  • Sciatica: an irritation of the nerve that starts in the lower spine and travels through the pelvis and along the back of each upper leg. Sciatica typically causes shooting pain down the back of one thigh or buttock. 

More about sciatica 

Anything that causes irritation or outs pressure on the sciatic nerve can cause sciatica. The most common cause is a sprain or strain of muscles or ligaments; or bulging, degenerating disks. Other causes of sciatica include spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal in the lumbar area), spondylolidthesis (slippage of a bone in the low back) and, very rarely, benign or malignant tumors. 

Diagnosis of sciatica is made by symptoms, neurologic evaluation, and tests, such as nerve conduction study, x-ray, and MRI scan. Common symptoms include the following:

  • Burning, tingling, or a shooting pain down the back of one leg 
  • Pain in one leg or buttock that is worse with sitting, standing up, coughing, sneezing, or straining
  • Weakness or numbness in one leg or foot 
  • More serious symptoms that sometimes occur in sciatica include difficulty walking, standing, or moving; increasing weakness or numbness in the leg or foot; and loss of bowel or bladder control. 

Steps to relieve sciatica

Sciatic pain is often a reoccurring problem and while it may resolve itself without treatment, there are some steps you can take to help prevent sciatica:

  • When lifting, hold the object close to your chest, maintain a straight back, and use your leg muscles to slowly rise. 
  • Practice good posture to reduce pressure on your spine.
  • If possible, avoid sitting or standing in one position for prolonged periods. 
  • Use a low back support during prolonged sitting. Rest one foot on a low stool if standing for long periods. 
  • Sleep on a firm mattress. 
  • Exercise regularly, at least 30 minutes most days of the week. Good choices include walking, swimming, or exercises recommended by your doctor or physical therapist. 
  • Consider job retraining if your work requires a lot of heavy lifting or sitting. 

Medical help for chronic pain 

Logansport Memorial Hospital has established relationships with physicians in various specialties so that our patients can be easily referred for necessary additional treatment when their care requires it. These physicians and specialty practices utilize office spaces, surgical areas or other hospital equipment as part of our partnership so that they are here on-site to provide the care that our patients need close to home. If you need more specialized spinal care for your back problems, please call (574) 725-3591 for more information about a referral. 

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TOPICS: Family medicine, Pain management