We will also compare sciatic nerve pain from regular nerve pain, which is commonly known as neuropathy.
What is Nerve pain? What is Sciatic Nerve Pain?
Nerve pain can affect everyone differently and can come in many forms. It can be a prickling, tingling or numbness or more of a burning or electric sensation. Some nerve pain can get better with treatment, and some won’t there are many variations on not only the feeling of the pain but also the location. Sciatic nerve pain or Sciatica (pronounced sigh-AT-ih-ka) is different from other types of nerve or lower back pain as it will start in the lower back and work its way down one of the legs.
Sciatic nerve pain is often described by sufferers as a shooting pain through the buttock and down the leg. This type of pain refers to when the pain radiates down the sciatic nerve system, which is the largest and longest nerve in the human body.
What is the Sciatic Nerve?
Everyone has two sciatic nerves, the left and the right, and they supply each lower limb. The sciatic nerve starts at the L4 spinal segment and is about 2cm diameter. It merges with the spinal nerve roots from L4 to S3. This runs through the pelvis and down the back of the thigh and calf and ends in the foot.
The nerve then branches off in two sections behind the knew where one sections run behind the knee and the other down the front.
Most nerve pain will come on due to back pain which also can present differently for different people. It can come on straight after a trauma or injury or can come on after some time. It can be short-lived or long-lasting.
How Sciatic Nerve Cause Pain?
The most common thing to cause sciatica is a herniated disc often referred to as a slipped disc, bulging disc or disc protrusion. The disc referred to is what separates the vertebrae. They are made up of connective tissue and get their name from their shape, which is a round disc. It is made up of a hard-outer ring and a soft center.
A herniated disc will occur due to either injury or as a result of many years of use (aging and degeneration) where the soft center of the disc push out through the hard-outer ring. When this occurs, it can begin to put pressure on the surrounding nerves, which can cause a lot of pain.
When the disc pushes on the sciatic nerve sciatica can occur.
Causes of Sciatic Nerve Pain
Common causes of nerve pain can be from illnesses such as diabetes, Injuries and side effects to chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
Sciatic nerve pain is more commonly caused by:
Herniated Lumbar disc
When the center of the lumbar disc has started to push out through the outer ring of the disc and is pressing on the sciatic nerve.
Other common causes are:
Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the bony canals that can compress on the spinal cord and sciatic nerve.
Degenerative disc disease
The spinal discs start to degenerate, and these become more susceptible to herniating.
A stress fracture or a weakness that occurs in the facets joints, which can sometimes allow the vertebrae to slip and can end up pinching the nerves.
Other less common causes are:
Sporting injury or car accidents can damage to the spine.
Drugs such as Chemotherapy, B6 Pyridoxine, isoniazid or HIV drugs can lead to sciatic nerve pain.
Piriformis syndrome where the piriformis muscle (a muscle located in the buttocks) can tighten or spasm can have an impact on the nerve.
With the aging of the spinal discs, they can begin to dry out and shrink. This can cause issues, and bone spurs may start to grow and can pinch on the nerve.
People with celiac disease are twice as likely to suffer from nerve pain. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder.
Amyloidosis is a buildup of amyloid, which is an abnormal protein produced in the marrow. This protein deposits on organs and tissue in excessive amounts in this disease. If deposited near the sciatic nerve, it can cause sciatica.
Fabry’s disease is an X-linked lysosomal storage disorder, and as pain is common for people with this disease often sciatica is part of that.
Most people that are diagnosed with sciatica are usually between the ages of 30 and 50 years old. As you grow old chances of leg aches due to nerve pain rises.
Obesity and excess weight
Being overweight can put extra pressure on the spine, which puts you at higher risk of suffering from a herniated disc. This is why people carrying that excess weight, including pregnant women, are at higher risk of a herniated disc which puts them at a higher risk for sciatica.
Place with poor work ergonomics, jobs that require heavy lifting and even sedentary jobs with long hours of sitting can all cause damage to the discs and put you at higher risk of herniation. Certain types of occupations are at a higher risk category than others. High-risk jobs include truck drivers, carpenters or machine operators.
Autoimmune diseases are one’s like lupus (SLE) and vasculitis.
There are studies to show that there are both physical and inflammatory causes to disc degeneration and herniation. This is often brought about by autoimmune conditions.
Heavy alcohol use and alcoholism can result in nerve pain.
Deficiency in vitamin E, B1, B6, B12 or niacin can lead to nerve pain in the leg.
Some cancers such as lymphoma or myeloma can lead to sciatica nerve pain in the leg.
Diabetes is one of the common ‘chronic’ conditions can result in nerve damage and leg pain. People with diabetes, therefore prone to leg wounds and ulcers.
Tip: Here are the Diabetes Nerve Pain Symptoms.
Thyroid hormone abnormality
Excess growth hormone
Vasculitis/blood vessel disease
Repetitive stress injury
Carpal tunnel syndrome
Toxins such as arsenic, lead, mercury, thallium and others can cause nerve pain.
Shingles, HIV, Lyme disease, diphtheria or leprosy, which can all cause the inflammatory side of the degeneration to occur.
Genetic susceptibility for sciatica and nerve pain.
Small fiber neuropathy
Mental health issues
Mental conditions, such as depression could cause nerve pain.
Especially, tall height individuals in the age group (50 to 60 years) likely to experience nerve pain than their non-tall peers.
In the modern-day, the sedentary, inactive lifestyle becoming a common reason to lose body elasticity, which can cause pains, including sciatic nerve pain.
For most people, however, no cause can be identified even after intense testing for sciatica. A slipped or herniated disc remains the most common cause of sciatic nerve pain. But as listed above, there are several potential causes to the condition, and it is often hard to pinpoint whether it is one of the listed causes or caused as a result of multiple causes (from the list).
Common Nerve Pain Locations of Sciatic Nerve Pain through Leg
Because sciatica is a pain that runs down the sciatic nerve, the common pain locations are the places that the nerve runs through. The common locations where pain can occur is in the back, most commonly the:
either left or right leg, and
rarely both legs.
The pain can also occur either in the upper leg (thigh) or lower leg or both.
Sometimes the pain can even radiate as low as the feet.
The pain has many variables, and each sciatica sufferer can experience it differently. But it can always be described as pain along the sciatic nerve it can just vary where along the nerve an individual is feeling it.
Tip: Here are the lists of all causes for upper back pain, lower back pain, groin pain, leg pain, back of the leg pain, thigh pain, calf pain and foot pain. If you experience leg pain at night, there are additional causes for that too.
Tip: You should differentiate the back pain from kidney pain, though.
Signs and Symptoms of Sciatic Nerve Pain in Leg
Sciatica pain radiates from the spine through the buttock and into the leg. Through the back of the thigh and even into the calf and sometimes all the way down to the foot.
The symptoms can often be described as the following:
- Pain that can range from a mild or dull ache to a sharp burn or electric shock-like shooting pain all the way up to excruciating pain.
- Sensations that can be altered from time to time.
- Often a ‘chronic’ sensation of pain (long-term dull, continuous pain) or unpleasantness remains.
- Pain that can be throbbing or pulsating.
- The discomfort that can come and go.
- Sudden onset of pain without a trigger.
- Pain caused by activities that don’t often cause pain such as feeling cold, bumping something lightly or brushing teeth.
- In addition to physical symptoms, there are many emotional one’s as well, including not being able to sleep and difficulty expressing how you are feeling when it comes to living with sciatica nerve pain.
Usually, in the case of sciatic nerve pain, one side of the body will be affected but not the other. Rarely sciatica can affect both limbs together. It is also possible for it to alternate between legs.
While most people experience similar symptoms and the pain in the same place, there are still occasions where people experience different symptoms believed to be associated with sciatica pain.
How to Identify Sciatic Nerve Pain from Nerve Pain in Leg
Nerve pain which is also called neuralgia or neuropathic pain
happens when the health condition is affecting the nerves.
Nerve pain feels different from any other type of pain. It can feel like burning, stabbing or shooting pains or even like an electric shock. It can be mild or severe, and can often be a pain worse at night. It is caused by damage to a nerve which can be the result of injury or disease. The resulting damage can cause the never to send pain signals to the brain.
The causes of neuralgia or neuropathic pain can be things such as an injury, stroke, diabetes, multiple sclerosis or heavy drinking. Several other things that can cause nerve pain, but these are the top causes.
This type of pain is often mistaken for sciatica, but a compression on the sciatic nerve causes the pain in sciatica.
Both conditions can cause lower back, leg and foot pain (and pain anywhere between).
They can both make walking difficult, and they both often cause muscle cramps.
As they can both be caused by similar things, and they also both can cause burning or jabbing pains and tingling or numbness sensations, it is often difficult to differentiate between the two conditions.
If you are unsure of which you have the best thing to do is to see your doctor. You doctor will be able to complete a physical exam, and sometimes they will need to complete scans (e.g. ultrasound or CT) or imaging studies.
Once your doctor has correctly diagnosed which condition you have, they will be able to refer you to the correct treatment. While some of the treatments for neuropathy and sciatica can be similar, some treatments can drastically specific for each condition.
The best way to determine if it is nerve pain in the leg or sciatica is to go to your doctor and request a scan.
Nerve Pain and Sciatic Nerve Pain Triggers
Nerve Pain Triggers
Nerve pain can be triggered by several different things which can include but not limited to the following:
- If the neuropathy is due to another disease (e.g. diabetes), the worsening in that disease (i.e. diabetes) can trigger nerve pain.
- Sleep pattern changes or disruption (e.g. as a result of long-travel as a diabetes patient)
- Infections (e.g. if you have ulcers or wounds as a result of diabetes)
- Poor body immunity
- Repetitive movements
- Prolonged pressure on a nerve or legs
- Long periods of sitting (e.g. in a wheelchair)
- Food, which may cause high blood pressure, such as salty food such as canned food.
Tip: Here are the most effective pressure relieving leg protectors.
Sciatic Nerve Pain Triggers
Sciatic nerve pain is triggered by building discs and overgrowth of bone such as bone spurs. Things that can make it worse include:
- Increased disc compression on the sciatic nerve.
- Worsening of other diseases (e.g. diabetes, kidney disease)
- Long periods of sitting (e.g. at a desk or in a wheelchair)
- Lack of exercise
- Repetitive injuries
- Prolonged pressure on a nerve
- Poor body immunity
How to Prevent Nerve Pain
Several things can cause or aggravate nerve pain. The best way to prevent the onset or worsening of nerve pain is to be aware of what can be done.
Mange the cause of your never pain well
For example, if it caused by diabetes, monitoring your diabetes and manage it well – If you have diabetes, this can be one of the main contributors to nerve pain and keeping your blood sugar levels normal will help prevent this type of nerve pain.
Not only does exercise produce endorphins that help your whole body, but regular exercise can help with the expansion of blood vessels in your feet. This will help with the damaged nerves in the legs.
If you are more sedentary, start small and try to walk for 20 minutes a day until you can increase it to a 1hr daily walk/exercise routine.
Take care of your feet
As you are on your feet most of the time, they do a lot of work but are often neglected. This can lead to the onset of nerve pain.
So, make sure you take care of your feet, make sure you have good shoes, book in to see a podiatrist often. Treat yourself to a massage occasionally and check over your feet. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, then you should book in to see your doctor or podiatrist.
Tip: Here are diabetes-friendly shoes.
Relaxing your muscles with a nice warm bath can increase the blood flow to the legs. This can help with keeping nerve pain away. A nice warm bath can also be very relaxing for the whole body. However, you should not turn the water too hot as that can do more harm than good.
Tip: Carousel Sliding Transfer Bench
can help you to get on to bath safely.
Reduce or avoid alcohol intake
Heavy consumption of alcohol can make nerve pain worse. While there is no exact number that will help prevent nerve pain, research has suggested that four or fewer drinks per week are the number to help keep nerve pain away.
Often nerve pain can be worse at night, which can affect sleep. Ensuring that you have a good sleep pattern will help you sleep through the worst of it.
Make sure that you don’t have too much caffeine in the afternoon and go without for at least a few hours before bedtime. Set a regular bedtime and set a routine that you use to wind down.
Many sufferers have reported that they have found numbing treatments helpful.
Numbing using anesthetic lidocaine is somewhat popular. You may be able to get it over the counter in your region, but in some countries, you may also require a prescription. Lidocaine comes in many different forms, and the best option would be to discuss with your doctor, which version is going to work best for you.
While numbing has been proven to help with the pain, it is always only a temporary fix and doesn’t deal with the underlying causes.
Some people find relief from Capsaicin cream, which is made from hot chili peppers. Some people find the burning to be too much on top of an already painful condition. But those who use it over time report improvement within a few weeks.
Tip: Capsaicin is a home remedy for chronic back pain too.
There are some reports of natural oils helping with the pain. Geranium oil is said to help with the pain. Lavender has been shown to relax people which in turn helps with the pain.
Several sufferers have found relief in meditation there are several different types along with self-guided sessions as well as attending a professional. Though the guided sessions can be costly and time-consuming to find the professional that works for you. Some of the types include guided imagery, meditation, mindfulness, biofeedback and hypnosis.
Tip: Meditation is one of the best treatments for high blood pressure too.
How to Prevent Sciatica Nerve Pain
Sometimes sciatic nerve pain can’t be helped. Especially if it bought about by trauma that has been caused by an accident or due to aging (degeneration). The best three things you can do to help prevent the onset of sciatica are as follows:
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain good posture
- Use good body mechanics.
Home Remedies for Sciatic Nerve Pain Relief
There are several treatments available for sciatic pain. Some can be costly, but several simpler home remedies can also help alleviate the pain.
The following is a list of the recommended home remedies for sciatic nerve pain in leg.
Over the counter medications such as painkillers
Vitamins and minerals
In some cases, sciatica can be caused or worsened by a deficiency in B12 and taking B12 supplements, which should be able to help with the pain.
Alpha-lipoic acid, acetyl-L-carnitine, and gamma-linolenic acid are believed to help with the pain that comes with sciatica associated with diabetes. More research needs to be completed regarding this recommendation though.
As always check with your doctor before using any vitamin or mineral over a prolonged time.
How to Relieve Sciatic Leg Pain | Treatments for Nerve Pain and Sciatic Nerve Pain
Most sciatica pain gets better within a couple of weeks. But for those who have the condition for a long time or are finding no relief from home remedies, there are several options where you doctor can discuss with you and advise you about.
Many of the options available are designed to treat the cause as well as the condition to prevent it reoccurring while also helping reduce the pain while you heal.
The following are the most recommended treatments for nerve pain and sciatic nerve pain:
Medications such as anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants, narcotics, Tricyclic antidepressants Anti-seizure medications all can help, depending on any contraindications you may have for those drugs depending on any other tablets you are taking or other medical conditions.
These can all help reduce the pain as well as relaxing the body to help it through the healing process.
Exercises that will increase the muscles around the lower back and build core strength.
Pilates and yoga
Pilates and yoga help strengthen the muscles around the pain be mindful of the fact that stretches that will help the pain can differ depending on the type and cause of the pain.
Bed rest for the most part of the day is not recommended for sciatic nerve pain. Limit to 3 days bed rest to give it a break and time to heal, but longer can do more harm than good. Be careful to pace yourself when starting back up with physical activity.
Your doctor may recommend an epidural steroid injection if the pain is severe. This is only a temporary pain relief option and can last anywhere from a week to a year.
The standard surgical procedure for Sciatica treatment is the procedure called ‘Microdiscectomy’ where part of the nerve under the herniated disc or bone over it is removed. Surgery is generally only performed if the sciatica is causing other problems and the pain otherwise unmanageable.
This is where an anesthetic can be injected into the nerve to stop the pain messages and sensations from getting through.
The most common implantable devices for sciatica is a spinal cord stimulator which emits an electric current to help decrease the pain.
Alternative therapies such as chiropractic and acupuncture massage therapy can give a soothing effect.
While Osteopaths commonly specialize in lower back pain and general management, sometimes a combination program from an osteopath and a physiotherapist can help with strengthening the muscles around the back.
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
In TENS, a gentle electric current is delivered through electrodes that are placed on the skin. The recommendation is this treatment be performed 30 minutes daily for a month initially identify if it makes any difference in your quality of life.
Plasma exchange and intravenous immune globulin
Designed to suppress the activity of the immune system, these procedures are sometimes beneficial for people with certain inflammatory conditions.
Each person is different, and symptoms can vary from person to person along with the treatments that go along with it. Visiting a doctor to tailor a recovery and treatment plan to your individual needs is the best recommendation for nerve pain and sciatica sufferers. But it is best to be equipped with all the information so you know what sort of treatments your doctor should be recommending.