Patients with shooting pain that starts in the lower back and radiates down one leg may be suffering from a very common condition called sciatica. It occurs when the sciatic nerve that runs down the back of each leg is compressed or injured, causing pain along the nerve. Spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the spinal canal), a herniated disc, or bone spur on the spine can all press on the sciatic nerve and cause the pain of sciatica. Sciatica symptoms can range from annoying (a leg that feels like it’s constantly asleep) to severe (debilitating pain that makes it difficult to stand, sit, lay down, or walk). While many cases self-resolve, others may linger for years and even lead to other problems such as incontinence.
Symptoms of Sciatica
Pain that starts in the lower back on one side and radiates down the back of a leg is the classic hallmark of sciatica. The discomfort can manifest nearly anywhere along this pathway but typically occurs along the lower back, buttock, hamstring, and into the calf muscle.
The sensations can vary wildly, from a mild burning sensation to an excruciating electric-shock feeling. It may worsen when a person sneezes or coughs, and just sitting can aggravate the condition. It almost always affects just one side of the body.
Mild sciatica often goes away on its own, but moderate to severe sciatica may last much longer and symptoms may worsen until its underlying cause is treated.
Causes of Sciatica
When the sciatic nerve gets pinched or compressed from a condition like spinal stenosis, a herniated disc, or bone spur on the spine, it can manifest as sciatic pain.
Factors that increase the likelihood of sciatica pain are age-related changes in the spine and being obese or overweight, which places additional stress on the spine. Jobs that require substantial amounts of back twisting, carrying heavy loads, and driving for prolonged periods of time can aggravate your symptoms. Prolonged periods of sitting or leading a sedentary lifestyle may increase your risk of developing sciatica, as can having diabetes or certain inflammatory conditions.
Prevention of Sciatica
If sciatica has recently begun troubling you, participating in an exercise regimen can help strengthen your core muscles, enough to help alleviate spinal pressure and reduce your nerve-pain symptoms. Maintaining proper posture while seated and taking breaks when sitting for long periods of time can help.
Pay attention to your body. If you are forced to stand for long periods, rest your foot on a stool periodically. Or, when lifting a heavy object, be certain to bend at the knees and lift with the legs; holding the object closer to your body will prevent additional strain and stress.
An X-ray can help identify what is causing compression of the sciatic nerve. If X-rays are inconclusive, an MRI may be ordered that can reveal details like the presence of herniated discs. A CT scan with contrast will circulate around the spinal structures and cavities showing any type of nerve impingement. Finally, electromyography or EMG will measure the electrical impulses as they travel through the nerve and the speed with which muscles react. This can confirm if the extent of the compression.
Sciatica pain is no picnic. If you think you are experiencing sciatic pain, contact the team at Balcones Pain Consultants by calling (512) 834-4141 or request an appointment now and make your sciatic issues a thing of the past.