Sciatic Back Pain | Disc Degeneration

If you are one of the millions of people who, at some point in their lives, have experienced sciatic pain, disc deterioration may be at fault. Our spines are made up of vertebrae, intervertebral discs, facet joints, muscles, ligaments and nerves. As we age, certain portions of our spinal anatomy, namely the cartilaginous intervertebral discs, begin to weaken, which can cause degenerative spinal abnormalities that “pinch,” or compress, the sciatic nerve, resulting in the radiating pain, tingling and numbness that are collectively referred to as sciatica.

The sciatic nerve and disc abnormalities

The sciatic nerve is the longest and widest nerve in the body. It is made up of several different nerves that begin at the L4 (fourth lumbar vertebra) and L5 (fifth lumbar vertebra) levels of the spine. It then leaves the spinal cord through two openings in the sacral (pelvic) spine called the sciatic foramina, which are open passageways formed by the sciatic notch and various pelvic ligaments. From here, the sciatic nerve travels through the buttocks, thighs, knees, calves, feet and toes.

A variety of spinal abnormalities, such as bone spurs and spondylolisthesis, can cause sciatic neuropathy. The most common causes of sciatic pain, however, are disc abnormalities, including:

  • Herniated discs – The outer wall of a weakened intervertebral disc tears and leaks its inner disc fluid into the spinal canal, where it infringes on nearby nerves.
  • Bulging discs – A weakened disc pushes beyond its normal perimeter. Although still intact, the protruding disc can come into contact with adjacent spinal nerves or the spinal cord itself.

Treating sciatic symptoms by healing a damaged disc

The good news is that most cases of sciatic nerve pain caused by a herniated or bulging disc will heal over a period of time with conservative treatment. Talk to your physician about designing a non-surgical pain relief plan that works for you. This may include sciatica stretches, behavior modification, hot and cold compresses, prescription analgesics or sciatic nerve block injections.

If weeks or months of sciatic treatment do not help you achieve lasting relief, your physician may suggest that you consider surgery. Before assuming that a highly invasive traditional open spine fusion or disc replacement surgery is your only option, contact the orthopedic team at Laser Spine Institute. Our minimally invasive procedures have helped tens of thousands of people find relief from back pain through the use of state-of-the-art techniques.

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