Sciatica is a nerve condition that affects 10-40% of men and women over their lifetime and 1-5% of people each year. It strikes the lower part of the body (but usually affects only one side at a time) and is caused by many other conditions affecting the lower spine (also called the lumbar spine).
The pain experienced with sciatica varies depending on the severity of the underlying condition and can even affect bowel and bladder control. Learning the risk factors for this condition can help you find ways to alleviate symptoms and figure out what’s causing your sciatic pain.
Residents of Hagerstown, Maryland dealing with lower back issues and other injuries can get quality, experienced help. Christopher D. Clark, MD, and the team at Premier Spine and Sports Medicine offer cutting-edge rehabilitative services to help you recover from conditions like sciatica and get on with your life.
What is sciatica?
The sciatic nerve is the longest and thickest nerve in your body, made up of five nerve roots reaching from your lower back to your feet. Two roots start at your lumbar spine, and three start at the last section of your spine, called the sacrum. The sciatic nerve runs from your buttocks to just below your knee, then branches into other nerves that run down to your toes.
Sciatica refers to any pain that radiates down the sciatic nerve. Any irritation, pinching, compression, or inflammation along the path of the nerve can cause sciatica. You will experience pain that ranges from mild to excruciating, and coughing or sneezing while dealing with this condition can aggravate symptoms.
Numbness, tingling, and muscle weakness are other symptoms you may experience along with the pain. Although sciatica generally moves down one leg at a time, it’s possible to deal with it in both legs at the same time, depending on where the nerve is being compromised.
What causes sciatica?
Back pain is a common cause of sciatica, which can be the result of conditions like a herniated disk (the rupturing of the disks in your spinal column) or other conditions that can also affect your spinal nerves. Chronic back pain becomes more common as you get older, and it can lead to issues with the sciatic nerve.
Other risk factors for sciatica include:
- Lower back injury: any injury in the area can increase the risk of nerve damage
- Obesity: excess weight puts pressure on the body and can compress the sciatic nerve
- Intense physical work: jobs that demand heavy lifting increase lower back problems
- Diabetes: damages nerves, including sciatic nerve damage
- Osteoarthritis: can damage the spine and put nerves at risk
- Lack of exercise: a lifetime of inactivity and sitting can stress nerves and increase risk
- Smoking: nicotine can damage bones, nerves, and wear down the spine
- Spondylolisthesis: the slipping of one vertebra out of line with the rest of the spine
- Spinal stenosis: abnormal narrowing of the spine
Any of these issues or a combination of issues can irritate, inflame, or compress the sciatic nerve. Sciatica can come on suddenly or happen gradually, over time.
How is sciatica treated?
There are many nonsurgical methods of treating sciatica. Depending on the cause and severity, this condition can be treated at home with ice packs, heat, over-the-counter pain medications, or stretching exercises as instructed by your health care specialist.
Prescribed medical treatments include physical therapy, steroid injections, anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants, anti-seizure medications, and tricyclic antidepressants.
Surgery is a last option reserved for nerve problems severe enough to involve weakness in the bowels or the bladder, or if none of the other methods are working. Surgery can be used to remove bone spurs, herniated disks, or other things that may be compressing or damaging the nerve.
So, if you think you’re dealing with sciatica, treatment options are available. Schedule a visit with the team at Premier Spine and Sports Medicine by calling our office or booking an appointment online today to find out what treatment will help you get better.