Sciatica

Sciatica is a term that describes pain radiating from your lower back through your hips and buttocks and down each leg (along your sciatic nerve). Typically, sciatica affects only one side of your body. It commonly stems from another condition putting pressure on the nerve. This causes inflammation, pain, and often some numbness in the affected leg.
sciatica

 

Causes of Sciatica

Several conditions can cause sciatica, including:

  • Herniated Disk: The most common cause of sciatica is a herniated disk in the lower back. Disks are the cushions between the vertebrae in your spine. When a disk is damaged, the material inside can protrude and press on the nerves.
  • Bone Spurs: These are overgrowths of bone that can form along the edges of the vertebrae. Bone spurs can pinch the sciatic nerve.
  • Spinal Stenosis: This condition involves the narrowing of the space around your spinal cord, which can compress the sciatic nerve.
  • Degenerative Disk Disease: As people age, the disks in their spine naturally wear down, which can lead to sciatica.
  • Piriformis Syndrome: The piriformis muscle is located in the buttocks near the top of the hip joint. If this muscle spasms, it can irritate the sciatic nerve.
  • Spondylolisthesis: This is a condition in which one vertebra slips forward over another one, potentially pinching the sciatic nerve.

Symptoms of Sciatica

  • Pain: Sciatica pain can vary widely, from a mild ache to a sharp, burning sensation and can cause a lot of discomfort. Sometimes it can feel like a jolt or electric shock. The pain is often worse when coughing, sneezing and prolonged sitting.
  • Numbness and Tingling: You might experience numbness, tingling, or muscle weakness along the nerve pathway in your leg or foot.

Risk Factors for Sciatica

Certain factors can increase your risk of developing sciatica. Age-related changes in the spine, such as herniated disks and bone spurs, are the most common causes of sciatica. However, other factors, such as obesity (the extra weight adding pressure to the spine), occupation (jobs that require a lot of twisting, bending and carrying heavy objects) and sedentary lifestyle can also affect your chances of developing sciatica.

Diagnosis

To diagnose sciatica, your doctor will review your medical history and perform a physical examination. Tests may also be ordered to confirm the diagnosis. X-rays, MRI, CT Scans and EMGs can all be used to help produce detailed images of the spine to not only confirm sciatica, but also the condition causing it.

Treatment Options for Sciatica

Sciatica can often be treated with a combination of self-care measures, medications, physical therapy, and, in severe cases, surgery.

  • Self-Care Measures: These include applying hot or cold packs to the affected area, taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, and engaging in regular physical activity.
  • Physical Therapy: A physical therapist can design a rehabilitation program to help correct your posture, strengthen the muscles supporting your back, and improve your flexibility. Exercises might include stretching, strengthening exercises, and aerobic activities.
  • Steroid Injections: In some cases, your doctor might recommend a corticosteroid injection. Corticosteroids help reduce pain by suppressing inflammation around the irritated nerve.
  • Surgery: This is typically reserved for cases where the compressed nerve causes significant weakness or when you have pain that progressively worsens or doesn’t improve with other therapies. Surgical options include microdiscectomy, where part of a herniated disk is removed, or laminectomy, where a part of the vertebra is removed to widen the spinal canal and relieve pressure on the nerves.

Preventing Sciatica

Prevention is always the best course of action when looking at any injury or illness. Preventing sciatica involves taking steps to protect your back:

  • Exercise Regularly: Strengthen the muscles in your back and abdomen to support your spine. Maintaining a healthy weight will also help reduce pressure on your back.
  • Proper Posture: Good posture reduces the pressure on your spine.
  • Use Proper Body Mechanics: When lifting heavy objects, lift with your legs, not your back, and avoid twisting your back.

 

Understanding sciatica, its causes, symptoms, and treatment options can help you manage and prevent this painful condition. If you experience symptoms of sciatica, consult with one of our back and neck specialists to start your journey to better health.

Meet our physicians

Ara Bush

Ara N. Bush, M.D., FACS

Hand Surgery

dislocated shoulder

Andres Munk, M.D.

Spine Surgery

richard singer

Richard M. Singer, M.D.

Hand Surgery

Scroll to Top