If you suffer from sciatica, you’re not alone. Between five and ten percent of the population experience the pain and disruption of sciatica from time to time. Though the condition can be agonizing, the good news that it is generally temporary and eventually goes away. Here’s what you need to know about what it is, what causes it, and the best ways to treat it.
What is Sciatica?
The sciatic nerve is the longest in the body. It runs from the lower back all the down your buttocks and leg to your toes, and when someone is diagnosed with sciatica it is generally because they are experiencing pain running along its length. Different people have sciatica to different degrees of both pain and of how far along the nerve path it travels. Though there is a sciatic nerve on each side of the body, most people only experience sciatica on one side.
Sciatica is generally caused by the nerve being compressed or by a problem that is close to the sciatic nerve. When the nerve is compressed it is called neurogenic sciatica, and usually results in numbness or a sense of muscle weakness. By contrast, when the pain comes from inflammation or something being out of place in the area near the sciatic nerve, it creates pain. The area where the pain is felt is usually an indication of where the problem originates from. Our lumbar spine specialist in New Jersey can help you to identify whether the issue is coming from the L4 or L5 vertebral area or the S1 vertebral area.
When sciatica is a result of an underlying issue, it is generally caused by degenerative disc disease, a herniated disc, spinal stenosis or a stress fracture of the spine (spondylolysis). Each of these symptoms puts pressure on the spinal cord or the area surrounding the sciatic nerve, causing pain.
In many cases these different physical conditions are a result of advanced age, being overweight, spending too much time sitting at a desk, or lifting heavy objects at your job. There are also health issues such as diabetes that can make you more vulnerable to nerve damage and put you at risk for sciatica. Where possible, introducing healthy habits can both reduce your risk of sciatica ever happening or prevent it from returning if you have already had a sciatica flare up one or more times in your life. Core-strengthening exercises that help you correct your posture and spinal alignment can also be helpful, and so can making sure that you use proper lifting techniques.
The right treatment of sciatica starts with identifying its cause. If lifestyle changes like losing weight, adding more exercise or simply getting up from your desk and taking walks around your office on a regular basis don’t’ help, then it’s time to turn to medical solutions. Your doctor may start with the use of hot and cold compresses, physical therapy, and stretching and strengthening exercises. We may also use anti-inflammatory medications or muscle relaxants, steroid injections to calm the irritated nerves and inflammation. If non-invasive approaches don’t work, surgery such as a microdiscectomy may be a consideration.
To learn what is causing your discomfort and put yourself on the road to recovery, contact our office today to set up an appointment.