Are you experiencing lower back pain in the lumbar region of your spine, or pain that radiates down into your lower extremity, such as your thigh or down the leg? If you describe these symptoms to your doctor, they may consider this to be a medical condition called sciatica.
The sciatic nerve is the longest and largest nerve in the body, that begins as a collection of fibrous nerves in the lumbar (lower back) region of the spine. These nerve fibers, or roots, go through the spinal cord, and combine to form one large nerve.
Starting from the lower back, the sciatic nerve runs down to the lower extremities, down the back of each leg and to the toes. Therefore, the sciatic nerve is responsible for transmitting sensation from the lower extremities and lumbar area of the low back. Sciatica refers to pain caused by the sciatic nerve that carries messages from the brain down the spinal cord to our legs. Due to an injury or a degenerative condition, the sciatic nerve can become damaged or irritated, resulting in sciatica, a painful condition that commonly affects the back and legs.
What is Sciatica?
Sciatica is a condition that doctors define or describe as a form of radiculitis or radicular pain. This type of pain radiates from the lower back and down into the lower extremities directly along the sciatic nerve. When people experience sciatica pain, they are experiencing pain and sensations of tingling and numbness (similar to pins and needles after hitting your funny bone) caused by the compression of the sciatic nerve. This compression is normally caused by irritation of the nerve roots. The most common cause being a bulging herniated disc or a bone spur, both of which presses on one or more nerves in the lower back. Discs sit between the bones of the spine, if these become injured or compressed in the lumbar spinal area, pain, reduced mobility and disability are often the result. Sciatica is most common in people age 30 to 50.
Treatment for Sciatica
It is common for people to recover from sciatica without surgical intervention. As the symptoms of sciatica are often worse with sitting and may be accompanied by numbness or tingling in the leg, an accurate diagnosis can be made by doing X-rays and an MRI. A physical exam can confirm that the sciatic nerve is involved. The doctor will look for weakness or diminished reflexes in the legs. With the information gathered from this evaluation, a treatment plan can be put in place.
Most neck and back pain can be treated with conservative measures, such as stretching and physical therapy, as well as injections, anti-inflammatory medication, or muscle relaxants, to relieve pain. In some cases a nerve block can reduce pain, while physical therapy is a popular treatment that can help improve strength and mobility while relieving pain.
If you don’t respond to these conservative treatment methods, at Advanced Bone & Joint, our spine specialists are highly trained in all facets of spine surgery, including minimally invasive spine procedures, for all ailments of the neck and back.
To learn more about sciatica and how our specialists can help, call our specialists at Advanced Bone & Joint in St. Peters or O’Fallon, MO, at (636) 229-4222, or use our secure online appointment request form.