Solutions for Severe Cases
If you’re suffering from sciatic nerve pain that has progressed to the point of severely impacting your mobility, it’s understandable to feel frustrated and at a loss for how to cope. However, there are ways to manage severe sciatica flare-ups and treatments available to help restore your ability to walk comfortably again.
This comprehensive guide covers common questions around living with severe sciatica that prevents walking, treatment options to explore, and tips for coping when you can’t walk normally.
Can Severe Sciatica Prevent You From Walking?
It is possible for severe sciatica to prevent normal walking ability. When sciatica reaches the point of debilitating pain, numbness or muscle weakness, it can essentially paralyze your ability to walk properly and safely.
Specific symptoms that may interfere with walking due to severe sciatic nerve compression include:
- Acute shooting or burning pain that radiates down the leg. This makes it too painful to walk.
- Leg weakness or buckling that causes inability to bear weight, requiring a wheelchair.
- Loss of sensation in the leg or foot leading to lack of balance or stability when walking.
- Foot drop, which is when you cannot lift the front of your foot due to weakness or nerve damage. This causes a shuffling gait.
- Muscle atrophy if nerve compression has been long-term. This leads to a loss of strength needed for walking. A study found the multifidus muscle showed significant atrophy of up to 13.1% on the symptomatic side in patients with long-standing unilateral back pain from disc disease.
Seeking prompt medical treatment is crucial if you experience any of these debilitating effects on walking ability. Underlying structural conditions need to be diagnosed.
What Causes Severe Sciatic Pain When Walking
There are several factors that can cause or contribute to increased pain when walking with severe sciatica. These include:
|Inflammation or compression of the sciatic nerve
|The sciatic nerve controls sensations and movement in your legs. Any inflammation or compression on this nerve can cause pain, numbness or weakness when you engage those areas in motion from walking.
|Motion and impact from walking
|The act of walking requires bending and movement in your back, hips and legs. This motion can pinch or put pressure on an already aggravated or damaged sciatic nerve. With each step, your weight and the impact of walking puts strain on the nerve. This bouncing or jostling motion aggravates the irritated nerve.
|Structural changes or conditions
|Structural changes or conditions such as a herniated disc, bone spurs, or spinal stenosis put pressure on or narrow the spaces around the sciatic nerve. Walking can make these issues worse.
|Piriformis syndrome occurs when the piriformis muscle compresses the sciatic nerve. The muscle runs directly over the nerve toward the butt or hip area. Walking can inflame the muscle further.
|Prior injury, poor posture, inadequate strength
|Prior injury, poor posture, inadequate muscle strength, and other factors can make the sciatic nerve more susceptible to irritation and inflammation when walking.
Is It Normal for Severe Sciatica to Get Worse Over Time?
In mild or moderate cases, the pain from sciatica often diminishes over time with rest and conservative treatment. However, severe sciatica has the potential to worsen over time rather than improving spontaneously.
Chronic compression or damage to the sciatic nerve can progress in severity for the following reasons:
- Underlying structural causes can advance.
- Delay in proper diagnosis and treatment allows damage to continue.
- Inflammation and muscle spasms may increase without adequate relief.
- Nerve damage can occur from prolonged compression.
- Age-related changes to the spine put more pressure on the nerves.
- Poor posture and improper lifting add more insult to injury.
- Being overweight adds stress to the sciatic nerve. A study found that higher BMI was associated with increased risk of intervertebral disc degeneration, sciatica, and lower back pain. For sciatica, 33.8% of the BMI effect was mediated through sedentary behaviors. The researchers concluded that higher BMI has a detrimental impact on these spinal conditions, independent of sedentary lifestyle.
Rather than waiting to see if severe sciatica resolves on its own, it is vital to see a specialist who can determine the cause and recommend appropriate treatment before lasting nerve damage or disability occurs.
How to Cope When You Can’t Walk Due to Sciatica
Being unable to walk can feel disheartening and increase feelings of depression and isolation. Along with pursuing medical treatments that address the cause of your sciatica, adopting healthy coping strategies will help you through this challenging recovery:
- Communicate needs clearly to family and request help with daily tasks like dressing, bathing, chores, etc. Most want to help but aren’t sure how.
- Rearrange your home space to have items within easy reach from a sitting position. This promotes independence.
- Stay connected with friends and family through phone or video calls when you cannot get out.
- Maintain a routine as much as possible by getting up, showering and dressing as normal. Adjust activities rather than remain in bed.
- Keep your mind engaged by reading, listening to podcasts, or practicing meditation. Learning calming techniques can help manage pain and frustration.
- Focus on what you can do and celebrate small successes in your mobility. Severe sciatica can get better with time.
- If feelings become overwhelming, seek counseling. A therapist can provide support.
- Reach out to your local community about resources, home assistance or adaptive devices. Many programs exist. A recent study found 60.1% of adults have poor sciatica knowledge, with higher knowledge in those with a bachelor’s degree or more. The researchers concluded more education is needed, especially for less educated and rural populations, to connect people to local resources.
Though severely limited mobility seems hopeless, stay focused on your treatment plan and take it one day at a time. Patience through the recovery process is key.
Treatment Options for Severe Sciatica
Seeking professional medical treatment is crucial for both reducing painful sciatica flare-ups and addressing any underlying spinal condition contributing to your symptoms. Treatment options may include:
|Anti-inflammatory medication, muscle relaxers, and neuropathic pain drugs can help relieve sciatic pain and inflammation in the short-term. Oral steroids may also be prescribed for acute flare-ups.
|Epidural steroid injections around the spinal cord provide direct anti-inflammatory medicine to the nerve. Nerve root blocks can also prove diagnostic.
|Stretching, massage, and gentle strengthening exercises will help rehabilitate and support recovery of muscle control. Proper gait training aids walking.
|Spinal decompression therapy
|Non-surgical techniques like traction utilize equipment to take pressure off compressed nerves.
|If spinal abnormalities like herniated discs or bone spurs are indicated, surgery may be required depending on severity and non-surgical treatment outcomes.
|Options like acupuncture, massage, and chiropractic adjustment may provide relief for some cases of sciatica.
Relieving pressure on the sciatic nerve is key. A combination approach of rest, medication, physical therapy, and possibly surgery is often most effective for chronic, debilitating sciatica.
Home Remedies to Help with Severe Sciatica Pain
Alongside professional sciatica treatment, these remedies can help provide natural pain relief when walking is limited by a severe flare flare-up:
Applying cold packs can help reduce inflammation that is putting pressure on the sciatic nerve. Use ice packs or a cold compress on the most painful areas for up to 20 minutes at a time, several times per day. Always wrap cold packs in a towel before use.
Heat helps relax tightened muscles that may be enlarging nerve irritation. Use a heating pad on low setting for 15-20 minutes at a time on the lower back. Heat increases circulation which promotes healing. Avoid direct heat on numb skin.
Gentle stretches for the hips, buttocks and legs can help relieve muscle tension on the sciatic nerve. Pelvic tilts, knee to chest, and other stretches should be done minimally within pain tolerance. Yoga poses can also provide relief.
Ask a partner to gently massage areas of muscle tightness in the lower back, gluteal muscles and legs using moderate pressure in small circles. Avoid directly massaging over the sciatic nerve. Professional massage can further help release knots.
Anti-inflammatory herbs like turmeric, white willow bark, and boswellia may help alleviate sciatic pain. Chamomile, passionflower, and valerian promote relaxation of tight muscles. Always consult your doctor before using herbal supplements.
Practice maintaining good posture while sitting and reclining. Use lower back support cushions, keep knees bent, and avoid slouching or hunching which strains the nerve. Proper posture minimizes compression.
Topical Pain Relievers
Over-the-counter topical creams like capsaicin, menthol, or lidocaine provide a cooling or numbing sensation that temporarily relieves nerve pain. Apply only to unbroken skin without numbness.
By incorporating these at-home remedies, you can find additive relief while also pursuing medical treatment options. Be sure to consult your doctor on managing severe sciatica flare-ups.
Can Walking Help Alleviate Sciatica Symptoms?
While walking may initially cause pain for some sciatica sufferers, regular walking done properly can actually help reduce symptoms over time. Potential benefits include:
- Gentle stretching and motion helps improve flexibility in the lower back and legs, loosening tight muscles that may impinge the sciatic nerve.
- Walking aids circulation, bringing oxygen and nutrients to nourish damaged nerves.
- The motion stimulates lubricating fluid in the spine to reduce nerve irritation.
- Regular, low-impact activity keeps muscles supporting the back and legs strong yet flexible.
- Walking helps maintain a healthy weight to reduce mechanical stress on the back. Excess weight can strain the sciatic nerve.
- The release of endorphins, the body’s natural pain-relievers, during mild activity temporarily blocks pain signals.
- Building core and back strength through walking improves posture and spinal alignment, preventing nerve compression.
However, it is important to check with your doctor on appropriate levels of activity based on your specific sciatica symptoms and causes. Avoid any walking that increases pain.
Sign Up for Kaly
Living with severe sciatica that prevents walking can be extremely challenging and frustrating. While home remedies may provide some relief, it’s important to seek professional medical treatment as soon as possible.
Kaly can help connect you with top spine specialists in your area who can properly diagnose the cause of your sciatica and create an effective treatment plan to get you back on your feet. We partner with leading pain management doctors, neurosurgeons, physical therapists and other providers to ensure you find the right care.
Sign up for Kaly today to take control of your sciatica and start the journey toward walking comfortably again. The sooner you reach out, the sooner you can start down the road to recovery.