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What is sciatica?

Sciatica is when the sciatic nerve, which runs from your hips to your feet, is irritated. It usually gets better in 4 to 6 weeks but can last longer.

What are the causes?

Sciatica is caused by something pressing against or rubbing on the sciatic nerve. This can include,

·     A slipped disc or disc herniation, the most common cause. This is when the soft cushion of tissue between the bones in your spine pushes out.

·     Spinal Stenosis narrowing, this is when the part of your spinal cord where nerves pass through is narrowed.

·     Spondylolisthesis, this is when one of the bones in your spine slips out of position.

·     Any back injury could also cause sciatica.

Diagram explaining how a slipped disk causes sciatica

What can the GP do?

You should go and see your GP if,

·     Your pain has not improved after trying home treatments for a few weeks or if you have chronic sciatica.

·     Your pain gets worse.

·     Your pain stops you from doing your normal activities.

If your sciatica is not life-threatening a GP might recommend that you

·     Do certain stretches and exercises

·     take painkillers for reducing pain, they will also act as an anti-inflammatory.

They might also refer you to a

·     Physiotherapist who will help with exercise advice and techniques and even massage and manual therapy. Make sure you know that physical therapy from the NHS may not be available everywhere and waiting times might be quite long. Therefore, you should also consider private options.

·     Psychologist, who will help you cope with the pain of sciatica.

When should I go to A&E?

You should only go to A&E if you,

·     Have sciatica on both sides.

·     Have weakness or numbness in both legs that is severe or getting worse.

·     Have numbness around your genitals or your anus.

·     Find it hard to start peeing, cannot pee or cannot control when you pee and this is not normal for you.

·     Do not notice when you need to poo or cannot control when you poo and this is not normal for you.

These could be the symptoms of a serious back problem that needs to be treated in hospital as soon as possible, like cauda equina syndrome.

How can you ease sciatic pain?

Sciatica usually gets better by itself, that means that the best thing you can do is treat it at home. We’ve put together some tips to help you,

·     Try to carry on with your normal activities as much as possible, although bed rest might be tempting, lying down will make it worse.

·     Regularly stretch your back.

·     Gently exercise as soon as you can. Anything that gets you moving will help.

·     Hold heat packs to painful areas. You can buy these from pharmacies.

·     Ask a pharmacist about painkillers that can help relieve the symptoms of sciatica.

Don’t,

·     Sit or lie down for long periods. Even if moving hurts, it’s not harmful and it can help you get better faster.

·     Use hot water bottles to ease the pain as you could scald yourself if your skin is numb.

How do you prevent sciatica from coming back?

Sciatica is preventative. Here are some helpful tips to help reduce the chances of you getting it again,

·     Do not smoke. Smoking increases your risk of getting sciatica.

·     Stay active. Make sure you take regular exercise.

·     Use a safe technique when lifting heavy objects. For example, lifting with your legs from a squat position, instead of with your back in a bent-over position.

·     Sit correctly when you’re using a computer. Make sure you’re not hunching over.

·     Lose weight if you’re overweight.

·     Finally, make sure you have a good posture when sitting and standing.

What is a good posture when sitting or standing?

Often muscle tension is caused by poor sitting and standing. If you suffer from back pain, improving your posture is unlikely to address the root of the cause of your pain, but it does ease muscle tension.

This is where a rise and recline chair can help change your quality of life. By allowing it to properly support your back your muscles will de-tense and back pain will be relieved.

Oak Tree riser recliner chairs have a single motor to place you in the optimum position so that your whole body is supported when you are in a sitting position. Shop our recliner armchairs here.

Oak tree rise and recline chairs

Here are a few tips to help you sit and stand better…

Don’t slouch

Slouching doesn’t always cause discomfort, but over time this position can place strain on sensitive muscles and soft tissue. It does this by increasing tension on your muscles, leading to pain. Instead, get into the habit of sitting correctly. It may not feel comfortable to correct it initially because your muscles have been conditioned to support your body in another way. Mobility chairs can help with this process as they support your body while in the correct sitting position. Also, exercising to strengthen your core, buttocks and back muscles will help correct slouching.

Sticking out your bottom

If your bottom sticks out or you have a pronounced curve in your lower back, you may have hyperlordosis. This could be caused by wearing high heels or pregnancy. Correct this with core and buttocks strengthening exercises, hip flexor, thigh stretching and consciously correcting how you’re standing. Try and keep your body in alignment and maintaining your body’s natural curvature.

Standing with a flat back

Standing with a flat back means your pelvis is tucked in and your lower back is flat, instead of in its natural curve. This will cause you to stoop forward. This posture is often caused by muscle imbalances. To alleviate this position, don’t spend long periods sitting down and exercise your core, buttocks, neck, rear shoulder muscles and back extensions to correct a flat back.

Leaning on one leg

This can feel comfortable, but instead of using your buttocks and core muscles to stand, you place excessive pressure on one side of your lower back and hip. Over time this could cause muscle imbalances in the pelvic area. This problem can also be caused by carrying a heavy backpack on one shoulder or carrying a toddler on one hip. Try and stand with your weight evenly distributed.

Hunched back and ‘text neck’

This is caused by hunching over your desk caused by a tight chest or a weak upper back. This type of sitting can leave you with an upper rounded back and stiffness. If you find yourself leaning your head forward while using a computer or a phone try upper back, neck and rear shoulder strengthening exercises, chest stretches and neck posture drills.

Poking your chin

This is caused by sitting too low, having a screen that’s too high or a hunched back. If this is you, you must correct your sitting habits by lengthening your neck and tucking in your chin, bringing your shoulder blades down and pulling in your lower tummy muscles to maintain the natural curve of your lower back.

Rounded Shoulders

If your knuckles face forward when you look in a mirror, you might have a tight chest and a weak upper back, giving the appearance of rounded shoulders. This is caused by poor posture habits, muscle imbalances or focusing too much on certain exercises like chest strength while neglecting your upper back. Instead, strengthen your core, upper back and chest muscles to help correct rounded shoulders.

Cradling your phone

Holding your phone handset between your ear and shoulder can put a strain on the muscles of your neck, upper back and shoulders. In the long term, this can lead to strain on other soft tissue and muscle imbalance. Instead, use the phone with your hand or go handsfree.

References

NHS: Sciatica

NHS: Common posture mistakes and fixes

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