Herniated disc and sciatica — how they relate and what you can do

A herniated spinal disc is one of the primary causes of sciatica. Sciatica is a term describing a group of uncomfortable and potentially debilitating symptoms — like shooting pains, muscle weakness and tingling — caused by compression of the sciatic nerve. The longest nerve in the body, the sciatic nerve, branches out from the lower back through the hips and buttocks and down each leg. In most cases, symptoms are experienced on only one side of the body.

There can be many underlying causes of sciatic nerve compression or irritation, including an injury to the piriformis muscle in the buttocks, pregnancy and degenerative spine conditions like a herniated disc. If you believe your sciatica symptoms are related to a herniated spinal disc, learning more about this condition and the effective treatment options that exist for it can be a great way to get back to the quality of life you deserve.

What causes a herniated disc?

The spine consists of a stacked column of vertebrae separated by spinal discs that absorb shock and allow for flexibility. Each disc is comprised of a soft center surrounded by a protective outer wall. Herniation occurs when inner disc material begins to push out through a tear or weak point in the outer layer. If part of the disc constricts or irritates part of the sciatic nerve root in the lower spine, the symptoms commonly referred to as sciatica can develop.

Often a result of the natural spinal degeneration that occurs slowly over time as a person ages, a herniated disc that causes sciatica also has other contributing factors, including:

  • Family history of spine issues
  • Severe trauma
  • Repetitive stress
  • Poor nutrition
  • Excess body weight
  • A sedentary lifestyle
  • Using tobacco products or excessive alcohol consumption

Treatment options for sciatica caused by a herniated disc

With the guidance of an experienced physician, many people with a herniated disc experience enough relief from conservative approaches to avoid the need for surgery. For example, a combination of over-the-counter anti-inflammatories and pain relievers, hot and cold therapy and lifestyle changes can often bring relief and a return to comfortable activity.

In the event that nonsurgical treatments prove ineffective and your physician recommends surgical intervention, you might want to explore the minimally invasive spine surgery provided by Laser Spine Institute as an alternative to traditional open back procedures. Our procedures are performed on an outpatient basis and involve a less than 1-inch incision, which spares muscles and leads to a shorter recovery period.^

For more information on our minimally invasive treatments for a herniated disc and sciatica, contact Laser Spine Institute today. We offer a no-cost review of your MRI* to determine if you may be a candidate for one of our procedures.

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