Sciatica brings a very specific type of pain. If you’ve never experienced it, you can’t really understand it, and once it’s happened to you, you’ll never forget it. The pain has been described as coming like a lightning bolt out of the blue. Though it can present in a number of different ways, the most common is an enervating jolt that travels from the hip down the full length of the leg.
The sciatic nerve runs down the back of both of your legs, all the way to the foot. Of all the body’s nerves, it is both the longest and the widest, which explains why when it is irritated, the sensation is so overwhelming. It is responsible for all of the feelings you have in the back of your thighs, the soles of your feet and parts of your lower legs, and when it is compressed or irritated, you become aware of it immediately. The compression does more than interrupt your ability to feel: it also inflames the nerve path, causing the unmistakable, unique sensation.
There can be many things that compress or irritate the nerve. Women who are pregnant can suffer sciatica as their internal organs press downwards on the nerve, but the most common reason for sciatica is a herniated disc or bone spur growing from the spine. Sciatica can also be a result of spinal stenosis, which is defined as the narrowing of the spinal cord area that puts pressure on the spinal cord, as well as the nerves.
Sciatica can appear once and then never again, or it can become a recurring problem. If it happens on a regular basis for more than a week, it’s time to seek help from our lumbar spine specialty practice in New Jersey. At our practice, we’ll conduct a comprehensive physical exam, including questions about your symptoms and when they appeared. We often order diagnostic tests to determine what is causing your sciatic nerve irritation and to guide us in the development of the best treatment plan for your specific situation.
Your treatment is likely to be different based upon whether your pain is caused by a herniated disc, a bone spur or spinal stenosis, but in almost all cases we begin with a conservative treatment approach that includes rest, over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, the use of ice or heat treatments, and gentle stretches. Sciatica often responds well to these treatments, though some patients require more intrusive measures such as steroid injections to calm highly inflamed nerves.
Some patients benefit from physical therapy, which will provide you with exercises that you can use immediately and in the future to help strengthen your muscles and increase your flexibility.
In the most extreme cases, prescription pain killers may be appropriate for a short period of time, and if we diagnose your sciatica as resulting from a specific condition in your spine, we may prescribe minimally invasive spinal surgery to correct whatever is irritating or compressing your sciatic nerve.
To set up an appointment to have your problem diagnosed, contact us today.