Sciatica is a symptom of a disorder that compresses the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is one of the largest nerves in your body. It begins in your lower back, and travels downward behind the hip joint, through the buttocks, and along the back of each leg into the feet.
Do certain spinal disorders cause or contribute to sciatica?
Is the problem always spine-related?
Why see a spine specialist for a diagnosis?
What are the treatment options?
Classic sciatica is often defined as symptoms that travel into one leg below the knee and sometimes into the foot on the same side. Although that is the classic definition, back pain and symptoms above the knee certainly can mimic sciatic-like symptoms.
- Pain; mild ache to sharp and excruciating
- Pain is felt in the lower left or right side of the body
- Pain can present as electric shock-like
- Aggravated by a cough, sneeze, when sitting
- Sensations: burning, numbness, tingling, or pins and needles
- Difficult and painful to walk, stand, bend forward, backwards, side-to-side
- Muscle weakness
- Bowel or bladder dysfunction* (rare)
Sciatica can be caused by spinal disorders affecting the lumbar spine—your low back and extremities.
- Compression Fracture
- Degenerative Disc Disease
- Herniated Disc
- Spinal Stenosis
- Spondylolisthesis; Degenerative or Isthmic
- Nerve damage such as related to diabetes
- Falling down (trauma)
- Poor posture
- Improper body mechanics
- Prolonged sitting
- Lack of regular exercise
Consult an expert, especially if sciatica develops suddenly, quickly worsens, or you have a pre-existing back disorder. An accurate diagnosis is essential to an effective and successful treatment plan.
Your medical history and physical and neurological examinations are very important. You and your doctor discuss your symptoms, when they developed, and treatments tried. The doctor tests your reflexes and evaluates you for muscle weakness, loss of feeling, and signs of neurological injury.
Diagnostic tests help the doctor to determine if you have spinal nerve or canal compression. A simple x-ray can often reveal the effects of spinal degeneration. CT and MRI are sensitive imaging tools that detail bone, disc and nerve structures.
Sciatica often resolves on its own. It can be very painful and disabling but, seldom is spine surgery necessary. Your treatment plan depends of what is causing or contributing to sciatica. Your doctor may doctor may combine two or more therapies to maximize the success of your treatment.
- Short-term bed rest
- Cold therapy the first 24-hours, moist heat thereafter
- Activity modification
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Pain medication
- Muscle relaxing medication
- Spinal injection
- Short-term lumbar bracing supports the spine, may help relieve pain
- Physical therapy
- Spine surgery
Part of treatment often includes learning healthy spine habits and making lifestyle changes to help reduce current symptoms and prevent further attacks.
We hope this information about sciatica has answered your immediate questions. Remember, your doctor is your most valuable source to answer your questions about symptoms and your healthcare.