Three Things You May Not Know About Sciatica

It’s one thing to experience back pain. It’s quite another to experience pain, numbness, burning, stabbing, and tingling that starts in your lower back and extends all the way to the tip of your toe.

If the second sounds familiar, you may have sciatica. Affecting more than 40 percent of the world’s population at some time in their life, sciatica is common but often misunderstood. Fortunately, there are a few things that distinguish it from typical back pain.

1. Sciatica is a nerve condition.

The sciatic nerve is the largest spinal nerve in your body. Extending from the lower back through your buttocks and into your thighs, the sciatic nerve not only innervates that entire area of your body, but it also delivers signals to and from the muscles and skin of the lower legs and feet. When the sciatic nerve becomes irritated, pinched, or injured, the result is pain, numbness, tingling, stabbing, or burning in the lower back, hips, or legs.
Since the sciatic nerve is so involved with the structures of the lower half of your body, severe sciatica can also affect bladder or bowel control as well as movement.

2. You often feel sciatica in a location away from the problem.

For many people, sciatica is characterized by pain, numbness, tingling, stabbing, or burning that extends from the lower back, through the hips, and down one or both legs.

However, the cause of most sciatica is found in the spaces between the vertebrae in your spine. Thick, gel-filled cushions called intervertebral discs act as shock absorbers between the bones in your spine. Injuries or diseases affecting the discs can put pressure on the sciatic nerve, resulting in sciatica symptoms away from the actual problem.

If you have a “slipped disc” the cushioning disc has moved out of place causing the space between the vertebrae to collapse slightly. A ruptured disc happens when a disc fractures and the gel-like substance inside begins to leak out. Over time, intervertebral discs also lose their ability to bounce back resulting in a condition called degenerative disc disease.

In each of these conditions, the space the discs create allows the sciatic nerve to send and receive signals without interference. Once the discs begin to change, and the sciatic nerve is compressed, a person begins to experience symptoms.

3. Treatment for sciatica is often simpler than you think.

Most mild cases of sciatica will resolve on their own. However, pain that gets progressively worse or that lasts longer than a week should be evaluated by a physician.

Severe or persistent sciatica can be treated with:

  • Epidural Steroid Injections – Rather than having medication travel throughout the body, steroids are delivered to the fluid around the spine. Using x-ray guidance and precise instrumentation, epidural steroid injections have been shown to be especially effective at relieving sciatica pain at the source.
  • Selective Nerve Root Block– Persistent sciatica that does not resolve with other treatment can be helped with a selective nerve root block. Numbing medication is administered directly to the sciatic nerve under x-ray guidance.

For more information about sciatica or whether advanced pain management techniques are right for you, call our office for a consultation.

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