What is Sciatica?
Sciatica explained by Denver, Golden, Aurora, Boulder, Broomfield, Jefferson, and Littleton Colorado’s top pain doctors
Sciatica is a form of pain that originates from the inflammation or irritation of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body, spanning from the spinal cord down to the buttocks, through each leg, and ending below the knee. The nerve is one of the most important in the body, as it aids in the ability to feel sensations and control movement within the legs.
Any type of condition that involves the sciatic nerve can result in mild to severe sciatica.
The most common types of symptoms produced by sciatica are tingling and numbness felt in the legs and feet, and leg pain (which can feel like burning pain, cramping, throbbing pain, or shooting pain). Patients have reported worsened symptoms when coughing, sneezing, or sitting for extended periods of time. Sciatica symptoms that gradually become more severe can be a sign of sciatic nerve damage.
Causes of Sciatica
It is reported that about 90% of sciatica cases are caused by a slipped or herniated disc that puts pressure on the sciatic nerve root. For diagnosis, a physician will conduct a set of physical examinations to evaluate the mobility of the lower extremities and the tenderness over certain areas of the spine. Radiological imaging is commonly used, such as X-ray, MRI, or CT scan to aid in the assessment.
Another cause of sciatica is chronic lower back pain. Studies have shown that patients with lower back pain tend to have extended recovery periods due to the additional back, leg, and buttock pain from sciatica. “A pinched nerve” can also activate sciatica. If a nerve gets pinched inside or outside of the body’s spinal canal, it can travel into the legs and trigger pain in the lower extremities.
More severe disorders that have been found to cause sciatica are piriformis syndrome (spasms in the piriformis muscle that may irritate the sciatic nerve), spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal that can put more pressure on spinal nerves), and spondylolisthesis (slippage of one vertebra over the other, causing nerve exits to constrict).
Treatments for Sciatica
The principal objective for treating sciatica is to decrease a patient’s pain symptoms and increase the mobility of their lower extremities. Simple life changes can have a positive effect on pain relief, such as wearing more comfortable shoes, standing on the feet for limited amounts of time, eating a balanced nutritional diet, and sleeping on a firm mattress. Natural therapies, like massage, physical therapy, and daily exercise, have also been successful treatment options.
The most common type of treatment for sciatica patients is medication. Various forms of muscle relaxants, opioid medication, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and antidepressants are frequently used at the start of a patient’s therapy and then tapered as pain relief is achieved.
Interventional types of treatment are sometimes recommended for patients with severe cases of sciatica. Physicians have found Botox, trigger point injections, and epidural steroid injections to produce successful results. Other techniques, such as intrathecal pump implants, spinal cord stimulation, and biofeedback, are also known to effectively decrease sciatica symptoms.
For those patients who prefer a treatment plan that does not include prescribed medication or physical injections, there are alternative options available. Yoga, acupuncture, and transcutaneous electrical stimulation can provide pain relief with little or no negative side effects. These types of treatment are also an option for patients who have limited treatment choices due to an existing medical condition.
Sciatica is a symptom that develops (rather than a condition) when the sciatic nerve becomes irritated or inflamed. Since the sciatic nerve runs through the length of the body, any disorder affecting it can result in mild to severe pain in the lower extremities. Those patients suffering from sciatica commonly experience shooting or burning pain in one of the legs and a numbness or tingling sensation in the lower half of the body.
Many health conditions can trigger sciatica, such as a pinched nerve, spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, or a herniated disc. There are a wide range of treatment options available to sciatica patients to help decrease their painful symptoms. Injections, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and alternative therapies like transcutaneous electrical stimulation have all been shown to be successful.
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