Sciatica FAQ — frequently asked questions
Living with sciatica, especially if you have been recently diagnosed with this condition, can lead to many questions. While the best person to answer questions specific to your case is your primary care doctor, general information can also be beneficial.
At Laser Spine Institute, our physicians answer questions from patients about sciatica every day. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions we encounter:
- Q: What is sciatica?
- A: Sciatica is a term used to describe a group of symptoms that can result from compression of the sciatic nerve. The largest and longest nerve in the body, the sciatic nerve, spans from the base of the spine through both legs to the feet. Sciatic nerve compression can lead to pain that originates in the lower back and radiates through the buttocks, legs and feet. It can also cause other symptoms, such as tingling, numbness and muscle weakness. Generally, sciatica manifests on only one side of the body, but it can sometimes affect both sides.
- Q: What causes sciatica?
- A: Most often, sciatica results from a degenerative spine condition, such as a herniated disc or bone spur. When damaged disc material or excess bony growth is positioned in such a way that it exerts pressure on the sciatic nerve, painful symptoms can arise. Similarly, sciatica can be caused by a traumatic injury, such as a pelvic fracture, or by spasms of the piriformis muscle in the pelvic region.
Sciatica symptoms can also occur along with diseases like diabetes, which can cause neural damage, or by the formation of tumors that press on the sciatic nerve. This is why it is so important to get a proper diagnosis if you are experiencing symptoms.
- Q: What are the symptoms of sciatic nerve compression?
- A: The hallmark of sciatica is radiating pain — tingling, numbness and burning sensations that originate in the lower spine and travel down through the buttocks, the backs of the legs and sometimes into the soles of the feet. Sciatica can also cause weakness in the legs, knees and feet and, in severe cases, a loss of mobility.
- Q: What are the treatment options?
- A: Treatment usually begins conservatively with options like rest, pain relievers, hot and cold compression and physical therapy. Your doctor may also recommend making lifestyle changes to potentially improve the health of your spine. This can include weight management, ceasing tobacco use and improving posture. The goal of any plan should be to relieve symptoms, improve mobility and decrease the pressure being placed on the spine and the sciatic nerve.
- Q: Will I need surgery?
- A: If you experience pain or numbness that persists or worsens following a course of conservative treatment, you may be a candidate for spinal surgery. Before consenting to a highly invasive traditional open spine surgery, reach out to Laser Spine Institute. Our minimally invasive spine surgery involves a less than 1-inch incision, is performed on an outpatient basis and offers patients a shorter recovery time compared to traditional procedures.^
To learn more, contact our dedicated team of Patient Empowerment Consultants for a no-cost MRI review* to determine if you are a potential candidate for one of our procedures.