Pain and numbness from sciatica can negatively impact your quality of life. Our guide explains the causes of this common condition and outlines effective treatment options to set you on the road to recovery.
Sciatica, also known as lumbar radiculopathy, is a common cause of pain in the lower back and legs resulting from irritation of the sciatic nerve. Anything that puts pressure on this sensitive nerve can lead to numbness, tingling, and sharp pain shooting down one buttock and thigh.
Sciatica has many different causes, from spinal stenosis to disc herniation. It’s therefore important for patients to identify the root condition in order to determine the most effective treatment plan. Your options will vary depending on the cause of your pain, but most cases of sciatica respond well to conservative treatments like physical therapy.
CAUSES OF SCIATICA
Sciatica is a symptom of an underlying problem, rather than a condition in and of itself. Various injuries or abnormalities can cause your sciatic nerve to become compressed, leading to pain, numbness, and tingling. The most common associated condition is lumbar disc herniation, which occurs when an intervertebral disc in the lumbar region (the lower back) is torn, causing the gel-like inside to protrude and aggravate the surrounding nerves.
Another source of sciatic pain is spinal stenosis, which is the narrowing of the spinal canal. This condition is often caused by arthritis or degenerative disc disease, and is generally associated with aging. When the lumbar spine becomes too narrow, it can pinch or compress the sciatic nerves, causing pain in your lower back and leg.
Spasms in the piriformis muscle can also result in sciatica. This muscle is located in the buttocks and runs from the lower spine to the upper surface of the femur. The piriformis is responsible for hip rotation and allows you to turn your leg and foot outward. Injury to this area can irritate the nearby sciatic nerve, causing pain and numbness.
An orthopedic specialist can diagnose sciatica by examining the lumbar spine, taking X-rays, and conducting tests like MRI and CT scans. An EMG (electromyography) test is also used to pinpoint the source of nerve pain and determine an appropriate treatment plan.
Once your physician has identified the cause of your sciatica, he or she will discuss your treatment options. In most cases, sciatica responds well to nonsurgical solutions like physical therapy and light exercise. Your physical therapy regimen will depend on the source of your discomfort, but stretching and short walks are often recommended to reduce inflammation. Disc herniation can be managed with extension exercises, while treatment for piriformis spasms usually focuses on improving flexibility in that area.
In addition to physical therapy, your orthopedic specialist may recommend nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, naproxen, and ibuprofen. You may also benefit from cortisone injections, such as piriformis or lumbar epidural steroid injections. These shots are often effective in reducing pain and inflammation so that you can continue with your physical therapy plan.
In rare cases, surgery is required to treat extensive nerve damage. Most procedures focus on addressing the underlying cause of sciatica, such as a herniated disc that is putting pressure on the nerve.
If you’re suffering from sciatica, it’s important to visit an orthopedic specialist to get to the bottom of your pain and discomfort. Dr. Michael Y. Mizhiritsky is a leading expert in back and neck conditions with extensive experience in non-surgical treatments. His patients often see the best results with a combination of physical therapy, medication, and cortisone injections. Get in touch with New York Bone & Joint Specialists today to receive expert guidance on your symptoms and treatment options.