Un­der­stand­ing and liv­ing with sciatica

Community Healthcare Guide - - News -

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.

Treat­ing 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.

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