Nerve pains are generally painful..
And when the pain occurs in the body’s largest nerve, it is even more painful Yes, the Sciatic nerve is the largest nerve that passes down from spinal cord to the bottom of the legs.
So, obviously, when the sciatic nerve is affected, pain is felt on one side of the entire legs. But what if you started experiencing sciatic pain in both legs? What if you have sciatica on both sides of your body? Is that actually possible?
Understanding Sciatica and Bilateral Sciatica:
Image:KDS4444 via Wikimedia commons cc4.0
Sciatica, rather than a medical condition, is the term used to describe a collection of symptoms that result from the compression of the sciatic nerve. As I told, it is the longest nerve in the body that runs from the lumbar spine through the buttocks and leg to the foot. Thus when it is compressed, it causes a radiating pain in the lower back, buttocks, legs, and feet.
Generally, when the sciatic nerve is affected, the pain and symptoms are mostly seen on one side of the spine. That is you’ll experience pain, only on one side of the body, like the left leg, left buttock, left hip and left feet or vice versa. We call this unilateral sciatica.
Contrary, if you started experiencing symptoms, pain and everything on both legs, both feet, and both sides of the lower body… Then, this is what we call as the bilateral sciatica.
In simple, Bilateral sciatica is a less common variant of sciatica, where the sciatic symptoms occur in both legs. And Yes, It can occur in two forms, i.e acute or chronic, based on the degree of pain.
Causes of Bilateral sciatica:
People at risk for bilateral sciatica are those with a sedentary lifestyle as well as those who are occupied in jobs that require them to lift heavy loads for prolonged periods of time.
The cause of bilateral sciatica in a person can be hard for doctors to pin down but possible ones are as follows:
a) Disc herniation or other spinal injuries – The most common cause of bilateral sciatica is the herniation of the lumbar disc. Herniation of the disc refers to a rupture in the central gel-like part of the discs that act as cushioning between vertebrae. Disc herniation ends up resulting in compression of the nerve roots leading up to the sciatic nerve.
b) Osteoarthritis – Osteoarthritis produces debris which could narrow the spinal canal or the bilateral foramen.
c) Spinal stenosis – Spinal stenosis refers to the narrowing of the spinal cord in the lower back. It can result in disc, spine, and vertebral anomalies, and possibly bilateral sciatica.
d) Chemical radiculitis – When the nucleus proteins from a ruptured disc affect the nerves, bilateral sciatica may arise.
e) Cauda equine syndrome – It is a rare condition that is the effect of damage to a bundle of nerves beneath the spinal column. This condition is accompanied by chronic pain and numbness around the lower back, leg and buttock area.
It should be noted that these conditions, in isolation, may not directly cause bilateral sciatica. What all they cause is unilateral sciatica (sciatica on one side).
On the other hand, this sciatica on one side turns into Bilateral sciatica (sciatica in both legs),
- When you have serious unilateral sciatic nerve compression, causing the other side of the nerves also to be affected.
- Or When one of the above conditions are effecting separately on both sides. For example, a person’s left legs may be affected by sciatica pain due to disc herniation, while his right legs may be due to completely other reason like Spinal stenosis
Coming to the symptoms of bilateral sciatica… They are almost similar to that of normal sciatica (sciatica on one side). Except the symptoms happen to occur on both sides of the spine.
One of the chief symptoms of bilateral sciatica is a pain, often felt as a burning sensation, in the lower back, hips, legs, buttocks, ankles, calves or feet. Some patients experience localized pain in certain areas. Others may experience pain in the whole region between the lower back and feet. Also, shooting pains that travel up and down the sciatic nerve are described by many patients.
Patients may also feel muscular symptoms like tingling, weakness in the legs, numb or heavy legs, and muscular cramps. These symptoms may be objective, felt like an actual sensation, or merely perceived.
Acute sciatica can last between four and six weeks and medical attention is not usually necessary. For pain beyond 4-8 weeks, doctors may use MRI or X-ray technology to diagnose for chronic sciatica.
Treatment and exercises for Sciatica in Both legs:
When you are treating bilateral sciatica, the most important thing is to know that the set of symptoms you are treating is, in fact, bilateral sciatica. For most people, the institution of a self-care routine is essential including the following:
1) Low impact activity:
Although several days of bed rest may seem like a good idea, it may aggravate the problem. Light walking while keeping the form that avoids exacerbating your sciatica symptoms can help expedite treatment. Physical therapy may be required for more chronic bilateral sciatica.
2) Cold packs:
Icing the affected area can provide pain relief and help with inflammation in cases of acute bilateral sciatica. Apply cold packs for 15-20 minutes at a stretch on the affected area four to five times a day.
3) Hot packs:
After 2-5 days, try using warm packs for the discomfort. Alternate between cold and warm packs.
Gentle stretching, minus any bouncing or twisting, can help with sciatic pain.
Medication for pain relief may also be taken, after consulting a doctor.
If the patient does not respond to a self-care routine, surgery may be averred to. The two kinds of surgery for bilateral sciatica are lumbar laminectomy and discectomy. In a lumbar laminectomy, the spine base is widened to ease pressure on the nerves. In a discectomy, the herniated disc is removed completely.
With regard to exercises, sciatica exercises typically target strengthening the postural muscles, improving the mobility of the spine, and increasing flexibility. It has been reported, however, that sciatic exercises do not have much success in alleviating symptoms as the underlying cause is the compression of the nerve root. Development of muscles, therefore, is a weak punch. The prescription of exercises is unlikely to do much, although it may temporarily relieve ischemia-related pain (i.e., pain due to the reduction of circulation) as it improves circulation and cell oxygenation.
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