Learn More About Sciatica

Sciatica is the pain that occurs when the sciatic nerves are irritated or inflamed. Between 13 and 40% of people will suffer sciatic pain at some point in their lives. Luckily, most people will see their condition resolve itself spontaneously. There are some treatments available for those who continue to suffer from sciatica.

What is Sciatica?

Sciatica, which is also known as lumbar radiculopathy, is pain that is caused by irritation or compression of the sciatic nerves. These are the nerves that start in your lower back and run down the back of each leg down into the feet. The sciatic nerves are the most important ones in your legs and provide a connection from your nervous system to your skin and muscles in your thighs, calves, and feet.

Each sciatic nerve has five roots that go into the spinal cord. When they are irritated or compressed at these roots, you may feel pain that radiates down into your legs. The result may be pain, numbness, difficulty with muscle control or weakness. In most cases, sciatica heals without any sort of intervention.

Sciatica Symptoms

Sciatica can cause sharp pains that shoot down the leg. The feeling is often described as the sensation of an intense leg cramp. This pain often intensifies when moving, sneezing or coughing.

Other common symptoms include tingling, weakness, numbness, and burning sensations down the leg. Symptoms may get worse when walking or bending and decrease when changing positions or lying down. Sometimes the sensation of sciatica will feel like an electric shock. Some people experience weakness in the muscles in their legs.

In very rare cases, sciatica can lead to the loss of bladder and bowel control. Loss of bladder and bowel control may be a symptom of a serious disorder called cauda equina syndrome; it requires immediate medical care.

Causes of Sciatica

Sciatica is caused by any condition that leads to inflammation or irritation of the sciatic nerve. In some cases, it is the result of a herniated disc in the lumbar region. It can also be caused by any structure of the spine pressing on the sciatic nerve.

Sciatica can occur due to injury, tumors, infections or internal bleeding around the lumbar region of the spine. A few of the common injuries that can lead to sciatica:

  • Poor posture when lifting.
  • Prolonged sitting, like what occurs while working at a desk job or driving for many hours at a time.
  • Spinal trauma from a fall or other accident.
  • Overuse.
  • Lifestyle factors that include consumption of alcohol, being sedentary, tobacco use or a poor diet.

Sciatica can also be associated with a number of conditions that include diabetes, pregnancy, spinal stenosis, or bone spurs. It can also occur as a result of the normal disc degeneration that can come with aging. Any of these can cause compression on or irritation of the sciatic nerves, resulting in the symptoms described above.

How Is Sciatica Diagnosed?

In most cases, a doctor can diagnose sciatica based on a physical examination and your medical history. You will probably be asked when your symptoms began and what treatments you have tried. The physical exam will include testing for muscle weakness, decreased range of movement, loss of sensation and any signs that indicate a neurological injury.

In some cases, an x-ray may be ordered to rule out herniated discs, tumors or other problems. Treatment of underlying issues can prevent future pain from sciatica.

Sciatica Treatment Options

How sciatica is treated depends on both the severity and the underlying conditions that caused it. Treatment options include:

  • Physical therapy. Exercises that correct posture, strengthen muscles, and improve flexibility can provide relief and prevent future instances of sciatica.
  • Massage or acupuncture.
  • Short term rest.
  • Hot and cold therapy.
  • Medication. Over the counter and prescription pain medications can help with symptoms.
  • Epidural steroid injections. These medications, used with or without an anesthetic, are injected into the epidural space around the spine.
  • Spinal cord stimulation (SCS). SCS uses an electrical pulse to block pain signals from being sent from neurons to the brain.
  • Microdiscectomy. In this treatment, damaged material around the nerves is removed to alleviate pain.

In a small number of cases, sciatica may be caused by a condition that requires surgical intervention. Your doctor will diagnose the cause of your sciatica and make recommendations.

When offering treatment for sciatica, your doctor may also suggest ways to prevent sciatic pain in the future. These can include better biomechanics when lifting, twisting or bending, improvements in posture, and lifestyle changes.

Request a Consultation

Do you have symptoms that may be caused by sciatica? We can diagnose what may be causing your pain and help you get relief. Dr. Michael T. Harris brings years of experience to his practice here at Performance & Regenerative Medicine. Get in touch today for a consultation.