Sciatica is the term given to a health condition that is characterized by the irritation and inflammation of the sciatic nerve. Being the largest and longest nerve in the human body, the sciatic nerve stretches from the base of the spine, down each leg and into the feet. When any part of the nerve becomes irritated, the effects can be felt in almost every area of the lower body. Sciatica is characterized by numbness and tingling along the length of the nerve, in addition to periods of intense pain when the nerve is highly irritated. Sciatica often occurs when the nerve becomes pinched or pressed between muscles or bones and the delicate myelin sheath is inflamed or irritated.
A pinched nerve is most often characterized by feelings of numbness and tingling. If a nerve becomes pressed between two muscles or other structures, its blood supply can diminish. This is what causes the "pins and needles" effect when a person's arm or leg falls asleep. What is actually happening is the nerve is being deprived of much-needed oxygen and the impulses it sends to the brain begins to weaken. When blood flow is restored, the nerve comes awake and begins to send stronger messages. This can be extremely painful if the nerve has been without oxygen for a longer than normal period of time.
Exercise and physical therapy can help to effectively manage the pain and discomfort of sciatica. Although it may not completely correct the problem, it will help to strengthen the muscles and connective tissues in the area and restore a more normal flow of blood. Exercise stretches and moves the muscles allowing the nerve to be moved as well. The more the muscle moves, the more flexible it is. Exercise helps to reduce inflammation and restores the blood flow that is needed for improved mobility. As the person becomes more mobile and circulation improves, the symptoms of sciatica may begin to decrease.
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