Sciatica is an unbearable pain felt deep in the buttocks, traveling down to the back of the leg or sometimes to the foot. In many cases, it is difficult for the patient to find positions that provide pain relief while in others the pain is mild or tingling and is often overlooked. Regardless of the severity of the symptoms, it is important to diagnose and treat the condition as soon as possible to avoid damage to the sciatic nerve root.
What Is Sciatica?
Sciatica means pain along the path of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is the largest and longest nerve in your body; it originates from the lower part of your spine and travels through your buttocks and down to your legs. The sciatic nerve splits into two at the knee and extends further all the way down to the foot.
When one of the roots of this nerve gets pinched, it causes severe pain along the entire course of the nerve. Hence, sciatica is not a medical condition on its own, it’s a symptom of an underlying medical problem.
Symptoms Of Sciatica
The most common symptom of sciatica is pain, numbness, burning, or tingling sensation that begins in the lower back and radiates down to the back of the leg or foot. In some cases, the pain can be severe or excruciating, making it difficult for the person to move.
Sometimes, patients feel a sensation like an electric shock along the course of the nerve. Other common symptoms of sciatic includes:
- Pain while sneezing, coughing, or going to the toilet
- Lower back pain
- Numbness, weakness, or pins-and-needles in leg and foot
- Pain that is worsened by sitting, bending, or twisting
- Pain that ranges from a mild ache to severe burning or a shooting pain
What Causes Sciatica
Sciatica occurs because of pressure or damage to the sciatic nerve. Some of the most common causes of sciatica are:
- Herniated Disc: A disc that bulges or sticks out to compress the sciatic nerve.
- Bone Growths: Bone outgrowth forms when cartilage inside the joint is worn down with repeated use and stress. Bone growths are not painful themselves but unfortunately can compress the nearby nerve to cause problems.
- Piriformis Syndrome: Compression of the sciatic nerve because of spasm or tightening of the piriformis muscle.
- Spondylolisthesis: When a vertebra slips forward over the vertebrae below it, the spinal canal gets distorted and this results in compression of the sciatic nerve.
- Stenosis: Narrowing of the spinal canal puts pressure on the nerve to cause symptoms.
How Is Sciatica Diagnosed?
A careful and thorough medical examination is necessary to root out the cause of your spinal problem and develop an effective treatment plan. A diagnostic evaluation includes:
- Medical history and physical examination – to check your muscle strength, flexibility, and reflexes
- X-rays, CT scans, or MRIs – to pinpoint the cause of sciatica
How Is This Condition Treated?
At the beginning of the condition, active treatment isn’t required and recovery usually occurs on its own. It is recommended that you stay active, rather than overly resting.
The goal of treatment is to correct the underlying problem, restore function, and prevent re-injury. Depending on your symptoms your doctor may advise you the following treatment options:
- Self-care: Mild cases of sciatica often resolve with rest, massage, gentle stretches, and ice or heat. Bed rest for more than two days is not recommended. Alternating heat and cold may help to reduce pain. Try ice packs for the first 48 to 72 hours, then use heat.
- Nutrition: Healthy eating habits for over good health.
- Medications: Over-the-counter NSAIDs, muscle relaxants, or analgesics like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can be helpful.
- Physical Therapy: Such as massage, diathermy, heat, traction, and ultrasound to strengthen your back and leg muscles.
- Yoga, chiropractic manipulation, and acupuncture
Interventional Pain Management Approaches
- Spinal Injections: Injected a corticosteroid or anti-inflammatory medicine into the epidural space to reduce pain and inflammation around the affected nerve roots. This minimally-invasive procedure takes less than 15 minutes but provides pain relief for up to 3 months.
- Transcutaneous electrical stimulation (TENs): Delivering mild electric currents through skin patches to disrupt the pain signals to the brain and relax your muscles.
- Disc decompression: Suctioning out the bulging disc material by inserting a needle into the affected disc.
- Spinal cord stimulation: Advised for patients with chronic or severe pain.
Living with sciatica isn’t easy, if you have been dealing with sciatic nerve pain, contact the Midsouth Pain office to schedule an appointment with us. We will investigate the cause of your condition to develop a pain management plan. Our team will help you live a pain-free life.