What is sciatica?

Many people will experience the uncomfortable sensations of sciatica in their lifetime. Sciatica — which is an umbrella term collectively referring to the symptoms caused by sciatic nerve compression — is often radicular, meaning symptoms follow the course of the nerve. Sciatica can include burning pain that extends through the buttocks and into the thighs. At times, sciatica can also involve weakness, numbness or tingling in the back, legs and feet.

The sciatic nerve

Out of all the millions of nerves in the body, the sciatic nerve is the longest and widest, innervating more areas than any other nerve. It begins in the lumbar (lower back) region of the spine, specifically at the L4 and L5 levels, exits the spinal canal through two openings in the sacral (pelvic) spine and extends through the length of both legs. Because the sciatic nerve begins in the lower back and travels all the way to the toes, sciatic nerve pain can occur in the:

  • Buttocks
  • Hip joints
  • Thighs
  • Knees
  • Calves
  • Feet
  • Toes

The sciatic nerve is especially vulnerable to compression and the resulting painful symptoms because the lumbar spine supports nearly half of the body’s weight, its spinal discs are very flexible relative to the rest of the spine and the lower back is involved in so many flexion, extension and twisting movements.

Treatment for sciatic pain

If you are experiencing sciatic pain, your doctor will most likely suggest that you begin a course of nonsurgical treatment. Conservative treatment recommendations for sciatica include:

  • Rest
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Low-impact exercise
  • Strength training to improve core strength
  • Lifestyle changes to improve posture and cut down on painful activities
  • Corticosteroid injections
  • Use of hot or cold therapies

If you are still experiencing sciatic pain and discomfort after several weeks or months of conservative treatment, your doctor may recommend surgery. If this is the case, we invite you to learn about the minimally invasive decompression procedures available at Laser Spine Institute. Minimally invasive spine surgery is an outpatient procedure that provides many advantages over traditional open back surgery.^ Contact us today to learn more. To find out if you could be a candidate for our minimally invasive procedures, ask to receive a free MRI review.*

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