Sciatica: understanding the causes and treatment options

Sciatica is a term used to describe a set of symptoms caused by compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve. This long and wide nerve is made up of five sets of paired nerve roots starting in the lumbar (lower) region of the spine and runs through the buttocks, hips and down the back of the legs.

Sciatica generally only affects one side of the body, called unilateral sciatica, with the compressed area of the nerve corresponding to the left or right side. However, both sides can be affected at the same time, which is called bilateral sciatica, when either the compression is so large that it reaches both sides of the spine, or possibly if there are two separate compression points.

Sciatica causes

There is a range of specific causes for compression of the sciatic nerve that can lead to sciatica. In many cases, the pressure is caused by a degenerative condition, including bulging discs, herniated discs and bone spurs. Although these conditions are often primarily due to age-related changes, the degeneration of the spine can be accelerated by a number of factors, including:

  • Traumatic injury
  • Obesity
  • Lifestyle factors, such as smoking or poor posture
  • Jobs that require repetitive bending or lifting
  • High-impact sports, like football or gymnastics

Sciatica treatment

Many patients who suffer from sciatica are able to find relief from conservative treatment options. This may include one or more of the following:

  • Physical therapy
  • Exercises to strengthen supporting muscles and improve circulation
  • Cold compression, such as using an ice pack
  • Use of a heating pad
  • Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Lifestyle changes such as weight management, posture improvement or quitting smoking

When a patient does not find relief from conservative treatment options after several weeks, their doctor may recommend surgery. Although traditional open spine procedures were the only option for years, there are now alternatives thanks to the continued development of medical technology. Since 2005, Laser Spine Institute has been able to help more than 75,000 patients find relief from neck and back pain, including sciatica, with our minimally invasive outpatient spine surgery.

Contact Laser Spine Institute to learn more about the minimally invasive procedures used to treat sciatica and related spine conditions. Ask one of our Spine Care Consultants how to receive your no-cost MRI review* to determine if you are a potential candidate for one of our procedures.

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