The condition of sciatica is one that is characterized by pain radiating down the sciatic nerve, which begins in your lower back and travels through your hips and behind and then down each of your legs. In most cases, the condition of sciatica will have an effect on only one side of your body.
The condition of sciatica typically occurs as a result of a bone spur on the spine, a narrowing of the spine (known as stenosis), or a herniated disk compressing the spinal nerve. This compression results in pain, inflammation, and numbness in the leg that is affected.
Though the pain associated with the condition of sciatica can often be severe, in most cases, it will resolve within a few weeks with non-operative treatments.
However, individuals who suffer from severe cases of sciatica that involve changes in bowel or bladder activities or significant leg weakness may be candidates for surgery.
Signs and Symptoms of Sciatica
Pain radiating from your lower- or lumbar- spine to your buttocks and down the back of your leg is the most common trait of the condition of sciatica.
You may end up feeling discomfort anywhere along the pathway of the nerve. However, it is very likely to follow the path from your lower back, to your buttock, and then down the back of the thigh and calf of the affected leg. As mentioned, typically only one side will be affected.
The pain related to the condition of sciatica can vary. Individuals with this condition may experience mild aches to sharp/burning or even excruciating pain.
In some cases, it has been described as feeling like an electrical shock or jolt. You may notice the pain feels worse when you sneeze or cough and sitting for long periods of time can cause symptoms to become aggravated.
Keep in mind that typically only one side of your body will be affected. Some individuals also report feeling tingling and/or numbness and even muscle weakness on the affected side. You may experience numbness in one part of your leg and pain in another part.
If you have a mild case of sciatica, it will typically clear up on its own. However, if self-care measures do not offer relief of your symptoms or if your pain lasts longer than one week or becomes progressively worse, you should see your physician. In addition, if you experience the following, you should seek immediate medical attention:
- You have severe and sudden pain in your leg and/or lower back as well as numbness and/or muscle weakness in the affected leg.
- Pain occurs following a violent injury- such as a traffic accident.
- You begin to have difficulty controlling your bladder or bowels.
Causes of Sciatica
As mentioned, the condition of sciatica is caused when the sciatic nerve becomes compressed or pinched due to a herniated disk, bone spur, or spinal stenosis.
In some very rare cases, the nerve can become compressed by a tumor or damaged by a condition such as diabetes or other conditions that can affect your nerves.
Lumbar Sciatica Risk Factors
There are a few factors that increase your risk of developing the condition of sciatica, including the following:
Age: changes occur in your spine as a result of the natural aging process. This includes bone spurs and herniated discs. These are the most common causes of the condition of sciatica.
Obesity: when you are obese, you increase the amount of stress being put on your spine. Excess body weight can increase your risk of changes in your spine, which can trigger the condition of sciatica.
Occupation: if you have a job or a hobby that requires that you twist your back, drive a vehicle for long periods of time, or carry heavy loads, you are potentially at an increased risk for developing the condition of sciatica. However, at this time, there is no conclusive evidence to this thought.
Sitting for long periods: individuals who sit for long periods of time or have an overall sedentary lifestyle are at an increased risk of developing the condition of sciatica as opposed to those individuals who are active.
Diabetes: the condition of diabetes has an effect on the way your body uses blood sugar. Diabetes can increase your risk of nerve damage– which increases your risk of developing the condition of sciatica.
Though it’s true that most individuals with the condition of sciatica will be able to recover fully without medical intervention, it is also true that the condition of sciatica can result in permanent damage to the nerves. If you experience any of the following, you must seek medical attention as soon as possible:
- Loss of feeling in the leg that is affected
- Weakness in the leg that is affected
- Loss of functioning of bowels and/or bladder
As mentioned, this condition will typically clear up on its own quickly. On the other hand, if your pain does not dissipate with self-care measures, your physician is likely to suggest some of the following:
There are several types of medications that your physician may recommend for treating your sciatica including the following:
- Tricyclic antidepressants
- Anti-seizure medications
- Muscle relaxers
Once you have seen an improvement in your acute pain, your physician will most likely recommend that you visit a physical therapist.
There, you will be given a rehab program that will help you learn how you can prevent injury in the future.
Typically, this will include exercises that will help to improve your flexibility, strengthen your back muscles, and improve your posture.
In some cases, your physician is likely to recommend steroid injections around the nerve root that is involved in your sciatica. These help to suppress inflammation, which help to reduce pain.
However, these are short-term options, as they will wear off in just a few months. In addition, the number of injections you can receive is very limited due to the risk of some serious side effects that increases when you have frequent injections.
This option is always a last resort and is typically reserved for when the nerve that is being compressed results in symptoms such as loss of control of bowels and/or bladder and significant muscle weakness- or when other options have been used to no avail.
A surgeon will go in and remove the portion of herniated disc or bone spur that is pressing on the nerve.