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How can I Manage Numbness from Sciatica?

By Geisha A. Legazpi
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Sciatica refers to a set of symptoms that involve the back and one leg. Typical symptoms of sciatica include lower back pain and leg numbness and pain, which are often felt through one buttock and one leg. The pain might be characterized as shooting, burning or tingling. Its severity can vary from slightly bothersome to awful and disabling. You can manage numbness from sciatica through physical therapy, exercise, stretching, massage therapy and acupuncture.

With sciatica, your affected leg might become weak, preventing you from walking with a normal gait. When you experience numbness from sciatica, you will not feel a thing even if the skin of your leg is subjected to a common painful stimulus, such as pricking or pinching. Another symptom of this condition is having a feeling of strange sensations. The symptoms of sciatica might not occur one at a time. You could experience pain and numbness at the same time.

The symptoms of pain, strange sensations and numbness occur because of compression or pinching of the sciatic nerve or its roots. Conditions that cause sciatica include osteoporosis, hip arthritis, a herniated disk and pregnancy. If you have been sitting on your wallet for hours a day for many years, if your job requires you to stand for long periods or if you are always carrying tool belts around your hips, you also might develop sciatica.

Sciatica occurs because of ischemia, or lack of blood supply. This is the reason behind the use of physical therapy and exercise in managing numbness from sciatica. Through physical exertion, there is an increase in circulation and oxygen, thereby relieving sciatica that occurs because of oxygen deprivation.

Massage therapy is good when your piriformis, a muscle stabilizing your leg, is tight and is compressing on your sciatic nerve. This muscle is located under the edge of the gluteus maximus, or buttocks, near the bony bump on the hip. Regularly massaging this area could loosen the piriformis and decrease compression of the sciatic nerve. Stretching works in the same way as massage therapy because it helps loosen the muscles. For instance, regular hamstring stretching could decrease hamstring tightness, which is an aggravating factor in sciatica.

From the perspective of Chinese medicine, sciatica is caused by an imbalance of heat and coldness. When cold or damp qi, or energy, gets into the energy pathways or meridians, it could cause sciatica. This is said to be the reason why cold or damp weather is an aggravating factor for many body pains. Acupuncture aims to remove this coldness or dampness in the body. It can be done together with moxibustion, or the application of heat to the acupuncture points, in order to restore balance in the body and treat sciatica.

Sciatica treatments vary according to the cause that the doctor identifies and how severe you think your condition is. For instance, you might be given simple painkillers, such as paracetamol, and anti-inflammatory medications, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, if there is inflammation and if you are only slightly annoyed by the pain or numbness from sciatica. You could decrease the pain by avoiding bending your back or lifting heavy objects and by putting a cold pack followed by a warm towel on the affected region. If you have gained weight, try losing some, because the extra weight puts pressure on your nerves. Furthermore, if the pain is severe and cannot be resolved by these measures, the doctor might recommend the use of narcotics, such as morphine, or even surgery.

Treating sciatica through surgery is an option if your symptoms do not decrease even after following the doctor’s advice. If the problem is a bone, spinal disk or tumor, then surgery is probably the best treatment option. Thoroughly consult your doctor to make sure that you know the advantages and risks of surgery before actually going through the procedure.

Sciatica can cause irreversible nerve damage. The complications of sciatica depend on what nerve is affected. Numbness from sciatica, which involves the sensory part of the nerve, can lead to permanent loss of feeling in the affected area.

If the motor part of the nerve is affected, you could suffer from permanent inability to move your affected leg. If the autonomic nerve is affected, you could lose your bowel and bladder functions, leading to fecal and urinary incontinence, respectively. Therefore, when you experience sciatica symptoms, consult your healthcare provider immediately.

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Discussion Comments

By anon947837 — On Apr 27, 2014

I have two herniated discs which were diagnosed with an MRI in 2005. Since then I have had recurrent episodes of back pain which would clear up with some anti inflammatory tabs and some injections. This year, in mid January it flared up again and since then I have not known a complete day of peace. There are days when the pain is bearable and others when I just wish it would stop. Really stop.

I have used every anti inflammatory drug available and ice packs to no avail. Now the pain has been moving sown my back to my butt to my legs and walking has become difficult. Unfortunately, I had been doing the exercises for the lower back hoping for relief. You have made me realize I might have been hurting myself more by exercising while in pain. I plan to see my doctor this week because I have been trying to manage the pain on my own since most of the medication could be obtained over the counter. Thank you for your posts and I will give an update as soon as it becomes available.

By fBoyle — On Jan 19, 2014

@ddljohn-- When I had sciatica numbness, my doctor did recommend physical therapy but told me to wait until I was completely better. It's not safe to do physical therapy or exercise while sciatic nerve problems are ongoing.

By ddljohn — On Jan 19, 2014

Sciatica pain is awful, but sometimes the numbness is worse. It's so frustrating. When I touch my leg, it feels like I'm touching my leg through a thick sock.

I'm taking anti-inflammatory medications right now. My doctor said that the numbness will go away with time. I will be going to physical therapy as well.

By serenesurface — On Jan 18, 2014

I have sciatica from a hernia. I had a severe back spasm two weeks ago. It was the most painful thing I've ever experienced. I developed sciatica nerve symptoms as a result-- back pain, pain, numbness, tingling and twitches in both legs. I was given pain killing injections and muscle relaxant injections for one week. My doctor also gave me a cortisone shot.

It has been two weeks now, I'm doing better. I still have slight numbness in my legs. My back is still slightly painful. My legs and feet also feel very heavy and cold. My left leg is worse than my right and I am limping a little while walking.

Since the cortisone shot just kicked in, I'm assuming things will get better in the next week. Meanwhile, I'm wearing a back belt all the time and applying heat to my back.

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