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Health and fitness: Sciatica can be treated, prevented

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By Kent Pegg

Sciatica is a painful condition in the lower back and the legs caused by an irritation of the sciatic nerve.

The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body, running from the spinal cord, to the hip area, down the back of each leg and to the feet.

Sciatica isn’t a physical disorder itself but rather a symptom of some other problem. It comes from a compression of the sciatic nerve and causes pain in the lower back and pain or tingling in the legs down to the feet.

Often, the symptom is caused by a herniated disc. Herniated discs can be caused by making sudden twisting motions, trauma or injury, back curvature, weak abdominal muscles, pregnancy, spinal stenosis, spondyloisthesis or piriformis syndrome.

Usually, sciatic pain will go away on its own within four to eight weeks. If the pain is chronic and lasts longer than that or if it interferes with everyday tasks you should consider seeing a physician or other healthcare expert.

Home treatment can also help to alleviate pain caused by sciatica. Initially, cold or ice packs can help with inflammation.

While cold can help with inflammation, heat is usually more effective for pain relief. Try using heat packs for 20 minutes every two hours. Ibuprofen and aspirin can also be taken as directed to help with inflammation.

Exercise is extremely important as well. Bed rest does not help relieve sciatica and it is important that you maintain regular physical activity.

At first, focus on stretching and low impact exercises. Good stretches for the lower back include the cat/cow and tail wag stretches.

Once the condition has improved, use exercise to help prevent reoccurrences of the problem. Good back strength helps maintain good posture and prevent sciatica. Strengthen your back by doing pull-downs for your lats and rowing exercises for your rhomboid and trapezius muscles.

Also, good morning exercises and back hyperextensions performed on a 45-degree hyperextension bench will help strengthen your lower back.

Keep your abdominal muscles strong by doing leg lifts and crunches. Add variety to your crunches to work your oblique and serratus muscles.

Remember that abdominal work can be performed on a higher frequency and duration basis than other muscles in your body, so don’t be afraid to do some every day.

Also keep up with your cardio workouts to ensure that you maintain a healthy weight. This, too, will help prevent future problems with sciatica.

While sciatica can be a painful and frustrating problem, it rarely causes any permanent nerve damage. And there is no danger of paralysis from a herniated disc in the lumbar or lower region of the spine because the spinal cord doesn’t extend through the lumbar region.

However, if there is a long term weakening in the lower back or legs, or bladder or bowel incontinence, it could be a serious condition caller cauda equina syndrome and immediate medical attention should be sought.

So if you have experienced sciatic pain, take the correct steps by incorporating the proper exercises into your workout program to both help relieve the pain and prevent future occurrences.

Kent Pegg is a certified personal trainer and the owner of the Los Alamos Fitness Center.  If you have any questions you can call him at 662-5232.