Sciatica is a problem that many of us experience, especially starting in middle age, but most people don’t have a clear understanding of what sciatica is or why it’s linked to pain and other discomfort in the lower body. If a doctor has recently told you that you have sciatica, or if you have a hunch that the electric pain you feel shooting down your leg is related to sciatica, you’ll certainly want to learn more about your condition and how it can be treated.
First, sciatica is not technically a condition – it’s actually a set of symptoms caused by the irritation or compression of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is the largest and longest nerve in the body, branching from the lower spine, through the hips and buttocks, and down the back of each leg. This nerve controls feeling and muscular movement in the legs and feet.
Several conditions that are common in the lower (lumbar or sacral) region of the spine can affect the sciatic nerve. Some of the most frequent causes of sciatic nerve irritation and compression are:
- A herniated disc – one of the pads of cartilage between the vertebrae in the lumbar spine breaks open, leaking fluid near the sciatic nerve
- Spondylolisthesis – one of the vertebrae in the lumbar spine slips out of place
- Piriformis syndrome – the piriformis muscle in the lower spine tightens or goes into spasms
- Lumbar spinal stenosis – a narrowing of the lower spine that can compress the sciatic nerve
Once the sciatic nerve is inflamed, symptoms may be felt throughout the lower body. The most common symptom is pain that travels from the lower back to the buttock and down the back of the leg, usually on one side of the body. The type of pain experienced can vary from a mild ache to a sharp, burning, or electric jolt that gets worse when you sneeze or cough. Other symptoms of sciatic nerve compression may include numbness, a “pins and needles” sensation, or muscle weakness in the legs or feet.
There are a range of treatment options available for sciatica including stretching exercises, hot/cold compresses, pain medication, and epidural steroid injections. If those fail to ease your symptoms after several weeks or months, contact Laser Spine Institute about our more effective outpatient procedures that are designed to remove the source of spinal nerve compression and help you find relief from chronic pain.
Do you have any tips for dealing with the pain and other symptoms associated with sciatica? If so, please join the conversation on the Laser Spine Institute Facebook page today.