Sciatica is a condition causing pain and discomfort along the length of the sciatic nerve, the longest nerve in the body. The sciatic nerve runs from the lower back through the buttocks and leg to the foot. Sciatica is characterized by sensation that can include a burning feeling, pins and needles, numbness and weakness in the lower back, buttock and leg regions.
Symptoms of Sciatica
Sciatica is a symptom in itself, not a disease. People with sciatica experience leg pain in varying degrees. This could range from intense, shooting pain to cramping sensations. Pain might be worse while sitting. The pain can also increase during moments that causes muscles to tighten, such as sneezing or coughing.
What causes sciatica?
There are multiple causes of sciatica, each of which causes abnormal pressure or “pinching” of the sciatic nerve.
Some of the causes of sciatica are:
- A herniated or bulging disc that puts pressure on a nerve root. This is the most common cause of sciatica.
- Spinal bone spurs that put pressure on surrounding nerves
- Spondylolisthesis, where slippage of a vertebra narrows the nerve opening
- Piriformis syndrome, which occurs when the piriformis muscle, located deep within the buttocks, tightens or spasms and irritates the sciatic nerve
- Spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal
- Irritation of and additional pressure on the sciatic nerve during pregnancy
How is sciatica normally treated?
In most cases, sciatica can be treated without surgery. We will always try to exhaust the most practical and effective non-invasive options first before committing to surgical procedures. Thankfully, at Hunt Spine, you will have access to one of the top neurosurgeons Los Angeles has to offer. Dr. Hunt's speciality in neurology gives a unique perspective to diagnoses and insight to a customized treatment plan. The goal of treatment is to reduce pain symptoms and to increase mobility. A custom treatment plan may include a variety of modalities to accomplish this, including physical therapy and medication.
Spinal injections to reduce inflammation can improve mobility and decrease pressure on the surrounding nerves.
For those who do not respond to these treatments, surgery may be an option, depending on the cause of the sciatica. One of these options is a laminectomy, a procedure to remove a portion of certain vertebrae to alleviate nerve compression within that portion of the spinal column. Patients with sciatica may also be candidates for microdiscectomy, a surgery to remove fragments of a herniated disc.
How can I avoid sciatica?
While there are some cases of trauma or disease that cause sciatica that can not be directly prevented, there are general practices for overall back and body health that can contribute to reducing incidences of sciatica. These include:
- Avoiding sitting for long periods of time
- Exercising regularly to strengthen your back and core muscles
- Practicing good posture when standing, sitting and sleeping
- Lifting using your legs while keeping your back straight and the item close to your body
- Avoiding smoking cigarettes, which can accelerate disc degeneration