Sciatica, which refers to the symptoms of pain and tingling that travel from the lower back and down the legs due to sciatic nerve compression, is a condition that affects millions of people every year. While factors like obesity, disease, and smoking can contribute to spinal abnormalities that exert pressure on the sciatic nerve, the natural degeneration that comes with aging is the leading cause of this ailment.
The Reasons that Age Contributes to Sciatic Pain
The sciatic nerve can become compressed due to a variety of spinal abnormalities, such as slipped disc, spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, and spinal arthritis, among others. These conditions involve bone or tissue protruding into the spinal canal and are generally caused by age-related, anatomical deterioration including:
- Vertebrae – Over time, vertebrae can thicken slightly due to bone spurs (osteophytes), which protrude into the spinal canal, press on the sciatic nerve, and cause sciatica.
- Intervertebral discs – These cartilaginous discs gradually lose water content and become thinner, drier, and less able to support the body’s weight, making them susceptible to herniation and bulging, either of which can contribute to sciatica.
- Facet joints – As we age, lubricating fluid in the joints decreases, which causes the joint cartilage to rub together and disintegrate. Eventually, bone rubs against bone and bone spurs form.
- Ligaments – Over time, the ligaments of the spine – specifically the largest longitudinal ligament, the “ligamentum flavum” – can thicken due to calcium deposits, a process called ossification. The ligament can then exert pressure on nearby nerves and lead to symptoms of sciatica.
Sciatica can usually be treated with non-operative, conservative methods like hot-cold therapy, mild stretching, low-impact exercise, and pain medication. If weeks or months of these treatments prove ineffective, however, your physician may suggest that you consider surgery. If this is the case, contact Laser Spine Institute. Our minimally invasive, endoscopic procedures may be able to help you find relief from degenerative spine conditions like sciatica.