Sciatica is a serious matter. The pain, the discomfort, and the underlying problem that caused it can make a mess out of your life. Here’s all the information that you need to know about sciatica.
Sciatica is not a medical condition all on its own. It’s a symptom of an underlying problem with the lower back.
Usually, sciatica means a burning leg pain, difficulty with moving the leg that hurts, pain that gets worse when the person is sitting, numbness and weakness in the affected leg.
The intensity of the pain can be anywhere between irritating to debilitating.
Sciatica can sometimes be caused by an injury, and healing period lasts up to 2 months. In other, rare occasions, when the underlying condition is more serious, it can result in permanent damage to the sciatic nerve.
Link between sciatic nerve and sciatica
Simply put, sciatica is caused by the irritation of the sciatic nerve. This is the biggest nerve in our bodies, it stretches from the lower back, all the way down to the foot. When it is compressed or irritated at its root, sciatic nerve can cause dreadful pain that we all know as sciatica.
Sciatica is age-related, and it rarely occurs in persons under the age of 20 but is common when people are around 40 or 50 years old. Sadly, almost half of the population is prone to it, since closer examination of data shows that nearly 43% of us get affected by it.
According to researchers, this condition will not develop after a single injury, it will evolve over time. This is why it is recommended that you visit a doctor as soon as you start feeling discomfort in that area.
When the condition becomes serious
There are symptoms of sciatica that you should never overlook, symptoms that require immediate medical attention. So, if you feel leg weakness or any other progressive neurological symptom, bladder or bowel dysfunction, you need to see a doctor ASAP.
Most common causes of sciatica
Degenerative disease of the disc – As we age, discs degenerate, but when they are too weak or they develop bone spurs, they can press the sciatic nerve and cause sciatica.
Piriformis – Sciatic nerve runs under the piriformis muscle in our buttocks, and when this muscle irritates the nerve, it can cause unbearable leg pain – or sciatica.
Isthmic spondylolisthesis – Sounds rather complicated, but it’s not. This occurs when one vertebral body slips on top of the one under it, because of an isthmus fracture. This fracture and the resulting slip can pinch the nerve and cause sciatica.
Herniated lumbar disc – Bulging, ruptured, slipped… terms that signify the same thing. This happens when the soft material from inside the disc leaks out through the fibrous outer layer and irritates the root of the sciatic nerve.
Sacroiliac joint irritation – This joint is located at the very end of our spine. When it is irritated, it can affect the L5 nerve that lies on top of it, and cause a pain that is just like sciatica.
Spinal stenosis of the lumbar area – This condition is common in people over 60, and it is caused by the narrowing of the spinal canal. When it narrows, it usually causes enlarged facet joints and bulging discs.
Less common causes – Spinal tumor, infection, fracture, muscle strain, and pregnancy.
Risk factors – According to researchers, nicotine and obesity can contribute to degeneration of lumbar discs.
Symptoms of sciatica
Usually, you know you have sciatica when your leg starts hurting unbearably. Depending on the type of pain, and following symptoms, doctors can determine the underlying cause of your sciatica, and help you to treat it.
For instance, L4 nerve sciatica affects the thigh, L5 extends all the way to the big toe, while S1 has an effect on the outer part of your foot.
Treatment of sciatica is mostly based on a combination of aerobic conditioning, stretching and strengthening exercises. This gentle physical therapy helps people to recover from sciatica faster and makes the pain less likely to return.
Of course, you shouldn’t choose the exercises yourself, it is best to visit a trained professional.
When sciatica pain lasts for more than 2 months, when it is severe, and when other treatments failed to produce a result, it is time to consider a surgery.
There are two surgeries that are typically done, a microdiscectomy (successful in 90% of the cases), or a lumbar laminectomy (successful in 78% of the cases), depending on the underlying cause of sciatic pain.
These are elective surgeries, and they are minimally invasive and offer a fast recovery.
No one likes the idea of a surgery, but if sciatica diminishes your quality of life, it is time to discuss it with your doctor.