Most of us have resigned to the fact that we’ll experience back pain at some point. Whether it’s the result of a pulled muscle, a slipped disc or just wear and tear—when it comes to back pain, it’s not about if it will happen, but when it will happen.
And because it can run the complete pain spectrum ranging from mild, dull and annoying to persistent, severe and disabling, it’s nearly impossible to know the exact cause behind your discomfort. Not to mention, knowing just what you should be doing to treat it.
So, if you have back pain, where should you start? Our recommendation is getting the low-down on some of the most common culprits. At the top of the list—sciatica. Despite it being a surprisingly common condition (more than 3 million cases per year) it’s often misunderstood. According to Robert Ayer, MD, a neurosurgeon with GMG's Neurosurgery & Spine Associates, this is what you need to know:
1. For starters, sciatica isn’t a medical condition.
Oftentimes, when people hear the term sciatica, they immediately assume that it’s a specific medical condition or illness, but this isn’t the case. Sciatica is actually an umbrella term used to describe a set of symptoms—pain, numbness or weakness in the back, buttocks and hip—that’s the result of a spinal condition (typically a herniated disc).
2. Sciatica doesn’t just cause leg pain; it causes back pain, too.
Fun fact—your sciatic nerve is actually the largest nerve in your entire body, as well as each of your legs. So, it makes sense that you would feel sciatic pain primarily in your leg(s)—right? Yes. But that doesn’t mean that you won’t also feel pain in your lower back, as well as your buttocks.
And just because you aren’t experiencing pain, doesn’t mean that it isn’t sciatica. Instead, you may feel numbness and weakness.
3. Physical activity doesn’t hurt—it helps.
The natural thing to do when you’re in pain is to rest, but that may only worsen your symptoms. That doesn’t mean you can’t take a few days to relax, but avoiding exercise for an extended period time may weaken muscles and intensify pain. So, even if it’s the last thing you feel like doing, get some exercise. This will help to reduce inflammation and stress. And don’t skip talking with your doctor for safe and effective exercise ideas.
4. It’s not only serious conditions that cause sciatica.
While a herniated or bulging disk is the most common cause of sciatica, there are other conditions that may be to blame, these include:
· Poor posture
· Blood clot
· Awkward sitting position
· Any nerve disorders
5. Sciatica will go away on its own.
The typical treatment plan for sciatica includes NSAIDS, hot or cold compresses, physical therapy, rest and TLC. And while this usually does the trick, it’s important to work with an expert to ensure you aren’t worsening your symptoms or ignoring an underlying medical condition.
Furthermore, if the pain evolves into weakness or numbness, this may indicate additional damage to the nerve or spinal cord, which may be irreversible if urgent care is not pursued.
Getting back to healthy living.
The worst part of any health condition is not knowing—and back pain is no different. That’s why the experts at Gwinnett Medical Center’s Back Pain Center will provide comprehensive care to get to the bottom of what may be causing your back pain. Their expertise doesn’t stop there, you’ll also receive a customized treatment plan tailored to suit your unique needs and ensure lasting relief.