Defining sciatic nerve pain and learning about treatment options

By Michael Perry, M.D.

Sciatica is a term for the pain and symptoms that occur as a result of irritation or compression of the sciatic nerve.

This condition often occurs as a result of the natural aging and weakening of the spine over time, which can cause a disc, vertebra or joint in the lumbar (lower) spine to move out of alignment and press against the sciatic nerve, which is the longest nerve in the body. The sciatic nerve extends the length of the lower back, buttocks and legs, which means that the pain and symptoms that accompany nerve compression can travel from the lower back down into the legs and sometimes even the feet.

Causes and definition of sciatica

Because the sciatic nerve originates in the lower back, it’s important to understand the components of the lumbar spine so you can further understand how sciatica can progress from even minor changes in the spinal structure.

The vertebrae in the lumbar spine bear much of the weight of the upper body and are subjected to a great deal of wear and tear related to bending, twisting, sitting, standing and other physical acts. The joints and discs that allow for basic spinal movement break down over time due to natural age-related changes combined with the pressure they are placed under every day. This degeneration of spinal anatomy can lead to the following specific spine conditions:

  • Spondylolisthesis
  • Bulging disc
  • Herniated disc
  • Spinal osteoarthritis
  • Bone spurs (osteophytes)
  • Hardened ligaments

These degenerative spine conditions can cause sections of the spine to move out of alignment and press against the sciatic nerve. This compression may cause symptoms such as lower back pain, shooting pain through the buttocks, legs and feet, and/or tingling, numbness or muscle weakness in the lower extremities. This set of symptoms is known as sciatica.

Treating sciatica

In many cases, sciatica can be treated using a combination of conservative methods, such as:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Exercise and physical therapy
  • Massage
  • Hot/cold therapy
  • Corticosteroid injections
  • Lifestyle changes like improving posture, managing weight and quitting smoking, if necessary

If your pain continues after several months of conservative treatment and you are being asked to consider a spine procedure, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn more about the benefits of minimally invasive spine surgery.

Our procedures have helped more than 75,000 patients find relief from chronic neck and back pain, including people with sciatica. In addition to minimally invasive decompression procedures, we also provide minimally invasive stabilization that is an alternative to traditional open spine fusions. Because our outpatient procedures are performed with minimally invasive techniques, our patients can experience a shorter recovery time^ and lower risk of complication than patients who choose to undergo traditional open back surgery.

To find out if you are a candidate for one of our minimally invasive treatments for sciatica, contact Laser Spine Institute today and request a no-cost review of your MRI report or CT scan.*

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