Understanding and living with sciatica
The largest nerve in the human body is the sciatic nerve, which originates in the lower back and travels through the back of each leg. Injury or pressure on this nerve can lead to a type of pain known as sciatica.
Sciatica can have an adverse effect on everyday life, causing pain that can radiate from the lower back through the hips and buttocks and down the legs. People experiencing pain in these areas should consult a physician immediately, as the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons notes that between 80 and 90 percent of people diagnosed with sciatica get better over time without surgery. Many typically feel better within several weeks of beginning treatment.
The first step toward diagnosing sciatica begins at home. People who learn to recognize potential symptoms of sciatica may be more likely to seek immediate treatment than those who might mistake their pain for something else.
What are the symptoms of sciatica?
The AAOS notes that sciatica may feel like a bad leg cramp that lasts for weeks before it goes away. According to Spine-health.com, a property of the health publisher Veritas Health, sciatica pain is often described as burning, tingling or searing as opposed to a dull ache. In addition, pain resulting from sciatica may be worse when sitting, even though sharp pain associated with sciatica can make it difficult to stand up or walk. Numbness characterized by a “pins and needles” feeling, weakness or a burning or tingling sensation down the leg are some additional symptoms of sciatica.
Does sciatica affect both legs?
WebMD notes that sciatica usually affects only one leg, though the buttock or leg on the affected side may feel like it is in constant pain.
What causes sciatica?
Spine-health.com notes that the following five lower back problems are among the most common causes of
• Lumber herniated disc: This occurs when the soft inner material of the disc herniates, or leaks out, through the fibrous outer core, irritating or pinching the nerve root.
• Degenerative disc disease: Discs in the back can degenerate naturally with age and never contribute to a problem like sciatica. However, degeneration in one or more discs in the lower back can sometimes irritate a nerve root and lead to sciatica.
• Isthmic spondylolisthesis: This occurs when a small stress fracture allowers one vertebral body to slip forward on another. The combination of collapsing disc space, a fracture and the slipping forward of the vertebral body can pinch the nerve and cause sciatica.
• Lumbar spinal stenosis: In this condition, which is relatively common among people older than 60, a narrowing of the spinal canal can contribute to sciatica.
• Piriformis syndrome: A muscle found deep within the buttocks, the piriformis connects the lower spine to the upper thighbone, running directly over the sciatic nerve. Spasms in the piriformis can put pressure on the sciatic nerve, triggering sciatica.
Sciatica often can be treated successfully without surgery. Doctors may recommend applying heat and/or ice packs for acute sciatic pain. In addition, over-the-counter and prescription pain medications can effectively reduce or relieve sciatic pain. Doctors also may explore other treatments, including chiropractic manipulation, acupuncture, massage therapy, and surgery.
More information about sciatica can be found at www. orthoinfo.aaos.org.
Sciatica can have an adverse effect on everyday life, causing pain that can radiate from the lower back through the hips and buttocks and down the legs.