Sciatica — what are the symptoms and causes?

Sciatica symptoms can be very disruptive to your life, but the wide range of causes can make them difficult to diagnose. The term sciatica describes the group of symptoms that occurs when the sciatic nerve — the body’s longest and widest nerve — becomes compressed. The sciatic nerve begins at the base of the spine and runs all the way down both legs.

Because sciatica is a broad set of possible symptoms rather than a specific disease, your symptoms can vary. However, commonly experienced problems include a sharp pain at the site of the nerve compression, radiating pain in the lower body, as well as tingling, numbness and a feeling of weakness in the buttocks, legs and toes that can make everyday activities difficult and uncomfortable to perform.

Causes of sciatica symptoms

The most common cause of sciatica is growing older. As we age, degenerative changes make spinal anatomy less able to withstand the pressure placed on them through everyday activities. This causes the development of spinal conditions that lead to sciatic nerve compression:

  • Spinal stenosis — the narrowing of the spinal canal or nerve root exits
  • Degenerative disc disease — the deterioration of the cushioning discs between the vertebra
  • Spinal bone spur — a bony growth from a vertebra, often caused by osteoarthritis
  • Spondylolisthesis — forward or backward slippage of a vertebra

The natural aging process is unavoidable, but there are certain behaviors that can play a role in the onset of these conditions and related sciatica symptoms. These include:

  • Having bad posture
  • Being overweight
  • Participating in contact sports
  • Tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption
  • Performing work that involves repetitive lifting, bending or twisting motions

Sciatica treatment options

There are several conservative treatment options that can help sciatica patients return to the activities they love. In addition to avoiding strenuous movements, many doctors will recommend a combination of physical therapy, stretching, pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory medications, cold compression, heat therapy and lifestyle changes, such as losing weight or quitting smoking.

In the event that sciatica does not improve with nonsurgical treatments, surgery may be recommended to relieve the source of the sciatic pain. If you have been recommended for spine surgery but have concerns about the risks and difficulties involved with a highly invasive traditional open spine surgery, reach out to Laser Spine Institute. Our minimally invasive spine surgery is a safer and effective alternative to traditional open spine procedures, offering our patients a streamlined outpatient experience with a shorter recovery time.^

Learn more by asking one of our Patient Empowerment Consultants for your no-cost MRI or CT scan review* to determine if you are a potential candidate for one of our procedures.

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