Simply stated, sciatica is the sensation of pain, tingling, or numbness in the lower back, buttocks, and/or legs that are produced when there is irritation of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is formed by a number of nerve roots that branch off of the spinal cord in the lumbar spine.
The sciatic nerve travels down through the buttocks and the back of the legs to the ankle and foot. Typically, a patient complains of pain from the lower back that travels down the back of the thigh and calf and often to the little toe, often accompanied by tingling or numbness. See the accompanying diagram.
Sciatic pain is most often caused by herniated, bulging or degenerated discs producing pressure on the sciatic nerve as it exits the lower back. Additional causes include small bony growths on the spine (bone spurs), as well as compression or pressure causing a pinching of the nerve as a result of injury.
Other causes of sciatica can be tumors, pregnancy or spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the spinal canal).
UNDERSTANDING LEG PAIN
The location and distribution of leg pain can help the doctor pinpoint the cause of your discomfort. Pain down the back of the leg and calf as described above is usually sciatica and results from nerve pressure between the 5th lumbar vertebrae and the 1st sacral segment, often referred to as L5-S1 disc pathology.
Pain down the side of the thigh and calf that crosses over the top of the foot to the big toe is often the result of disc pathology at the L4-5 level of the spine.
These are just two examples of how the location and distribution of pain can assist the doctor in understanding the source of your complaint. Be sure to share with your doctor as best you can the location and distribution of your pain and any other symptoms you may be experiencing.
THE SCIATIC NERVE
The sciatic nerve is a collection of several nerve roots that arise between your spinal bones (vertebrae). These nerve roots join together and form the largest nerve in the body, the sciatic nerve. This nerve travels down from the low back under the buttock muscles all the way down the legs and feet. Sciatica is a term to describe an irritation or pressure on the nerve, which is commonly caused by a herniated or bulging disc (also referred to as a ruptured disc, pinched nerve, or slipped disc) in the lumbar spine. The pressure or irritation leads to a complex of symptoms that include sharp, radiating pain, burning, and/or numbness and tingling. This is a very debilitating condition that affects thousands of people every year.
Generally, herniated or bulging discs are the cause of the problem. The herniated material of the disc will compress or contact the exiting nerve root producing the symptoms. Sometimes central canal stenosis, lateral canal stenosis, spondylolithesis, or degenerative disc disease can cause this nerve compression as well. The problem is often diagnosed as a “radiculopathy”, meaning that one or more intervertebral discs have herniated or protruded from its normal position in the vertebral column and is putting pressure on the nerve root in the lower back, which forms part of the sciatic nerve. Sciatica occurs most frequently in people between 30 and 50 years of age. On many occasions, this condition slowly develops as a result of general wear and tear on the structures of the lower spine and discs. Rarely is this condition surgical. Unless there is a progressive neurological deficit, or cauda equina syndrome, the majority of people who experience sciatica get pain relief with non-surgical treatments. Non-Surgical Spinal Decompression is very effective for these conditions. .
UNDERSTANDING SCIATICA PAIN
First, everyone responds differently to pain. For some people, the pain from sciatica can be severe and debilitating. For others, the pain might come and go intermittently, and not be so intense. Usually, sciatica only affects one side of the lower body, and the pain often radiates from the lower back into the deep buttocks all the way through the back of the thigh and down through the leg. Sometimes the person experiences calf or foot pain. It is quite variable. One or more of the following sensations may occur as a result of sciatica:
- Pain in the buttocks or leg that is worse when sitting
- Burning or tingling down the leg
- Weakness, numbness or difficulty moving the leg or foot , with the
- Leg pain being a little worse than the back pain.
While sciatica can be very painful, it is important to keep in mind that the main problem may be with the intervertebral discs. Most likely the discs are dry and weakened due to “wear and tear” injuries. Treatment goals should be to minimize pain, minimize the disc herniation, re-hydrate and re-nourish the discs and nerve roots, and to strengthen and rehabilitate for permanency and prevention of re-injury. This is where spinal decompression therapy can be very effective.
Symptoms that may constitute a medical emergency include progressive weakness in the leg or bladder/bowel or incontinence. As mentioned above, this may represent a rare condition called cauda equina syndrome. You should seek immediate medical attention if you are experiencing these signs.
In general, patients with complicating factors should contact their medical doctor if sciatica occurs, including people who have been diagnosed with cancer; take steroid medication; abuse drugs; have unexplained, significant weight loss.
Non-surgical Spinal Decompression Therapy may be able to help you!
Call today to schedule an appoint with Dr. Grace at 503-684-9698