Sciatica and the degeneration of aging
Sciatica, a term that refers to the collective 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 injury and trauma can contribute to the compression of the sciatic nerve, the main cause of this condition is simply the natural degeneration and weakening of the spine with age. Understanding how age and sciatica are related may help you postpone or avoid the development of this condition by finding alternative ways to strengthen your spine and promote overall spine health.
The reasons that age contributes to sciatic pain
The sciatic nerve can become compressed due to a variety of spine conditions, such as a 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 the age-related deterioration of portions of the spine, 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.
- Discs — The spine’s tough, elastic 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, both 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 nonsurgical, conservative methods, such as:
- Hot/cold therapy
- Mild stretching
- Low-impact exercise
- Pain medication
- Lifestyle changes like weight loss or quitting the use of tobacco
If months of nonsurgical treatments do not provide lasting pain relief, however, your physician may suggest that you consider surgery.
At Laser Spine Institute, we offer minimally invasive spine surgery to help treat the most common causes of sciatica. Our minimally invasive decompression and stabilization procedures offer patients a safer and effective alternative to traditional open back surgery,^ with no required hospitalization and a shorter recovery time.^ For many causes of sciatica, we may recommend a decompression surgery, although some severe damage in the spine may necessitate a stabilization surgery. However, these options will be discussed after a physical evaluation in our clinic.
The type of procedure you are recommended will depend on the cause of your sciatica and your medical history. To start your journey to pain relief today, contact Laser Spine Institute and ask for a review of your MRI report or CT scan.