Sciatica is a type of nerve pain that originates in the lower back and can radiate down one side to the buttock and down the back of the leg. It is very common, with about 3 million people in the U.S. reporting sciatica pain each year. Sciatica is caused by pressure on the sciatic nerve, the largest nerve in your body. Because there is always an underlying condition causing sciatica, a complete diagnosis will need to include the underlying condition. Here is some helpful information about sciatica, and how sciatica and its cause are diagnosed.
The usual causes of sciatica can be traced to wear and tear of the spine. People with sciatica are likely to be older, but there may also be damage to the spine from a traumatic injury that can happen at any age. A herniated disc or bone spurs on the vertebrae can compress the sciatic nerve and cause radiating pain, numbness, and/or tingling down your leg.
The first indication that you have sciatica is the location and type of pain you are experiencing. Typically, with sciatica you feel pain on one side of the body originating in the lower back and felt in the back of the leg past the knee. The pain can range from a dull ache to very sharp and excruciating. Sciatica pain can develop anywhere along the path of the nerve, but most people feel it along the nerve pathway. It can be constant, intermittent, or only happen when you sit for long periods or some other activity that could cause the vertebrae to twist or compress.
After you answer questions about the pain, your doctor may ask to move in ways that indicate a problem with the sciatic nerve. Actions that involve the muscles in the back of your leg or buttocks can make sciatica pain worse. If your doctor feels that you have sciatica, you may need imaging tests that will show the underlying cause of the pain.
The spongy cartilage between the vertebrae often wears down as we age. When the bones come in contact with each other and rub together, bone spurs can develop. When the vertebrae lose the cushion of cartilage that keeps them apart, the spinal discs can be compressed and herniate, or bulge out. Both of these scenarios can result in pinching of the sciatic nerve.
The good news about sciatica is that most of the time the pain will go away on its own within a few weeks. Treatment will normally focus on alleviating the symptoms and preventing further episodes. Some rest, applying cold packs, stretching the lower back, and over the counter pain relievers work well for most people.
Your doctor can prescribe stronger anti-inflammatory medication or muscle relaxants if the pain is severe. A steroid shot like cortisone is effective for short-term relief of sciatica. Physical therapy after the initial flare up can strengthen the surrounding muscles and reduce the risk of reoccurrence. If symptoms include significant loss of feeling in the leg that affect your ability to walk, or loss of bladder or bowel control, surgery to correct the nerve compression may be recommended.
Balcones Pain Consultants in the Austin, Texas area offers caring and experienced pain management for sciatica and all kinds of pain. Our pain specialists understand the complex nature of chronic pain and how it affects your life. Call (512) 834-4141 for an appointment at one of our convenient locations today. We see patients in Austin, Cedar Park and Marble Falls, Texas.