Sciatica Overview Sciatica Causes & Symptoms Sciatica Diagnosis & Treatments


What is Sciatica?

One of the most commonly used terms describing spine-related pain down a person’s leg is called sciatica.  Sciatica, itself, is not a medical condition but is a term used to describe the symptoms of a compressed or pinched spinal nerve.  The underlying medical conditions that cause this pain includes herniated disc, degenerative disc disease, spondylothesis, or spinal stenosis. When a damaged spinal disc becomes degenerative it can lead to a herniated disc.  When that herniated disc compresses an exiting nerve in your low back it can cause sciatic pain felt into your leg down to your foot.  Sciatica can be very painful and debilitating and affect your daily ability to function, work and exercise.

Some experts estimate that upwards of 40 percent of men and women will experience sciatica in their lifetime.  The symptoms often get lumped in with low back pain but are very different.  The sciatic nerve originates from the lumbar spine branching through the buttocks down the back of each leg, to the soles of your feet and big toe.  These nerves, one on each side of your body are the largest nerves in our nervous system and are as thick as your little finger.


Sciatic Nerve


Because the nerve is so large, the pain felt when it is compressed can be debilitating.  Sciatic symptoms are often described as pain, tingling sensation, numbness, weakness, and in severe cases dragging of the foot or “foot drop”.  Foot drop causes an individual to involuntarily drag the toes of the affected foot while attempting to walk. The sciatic nerve controls several muscles in the lower legs and controls sensation to the skin of the foot.  Depending on which level of the lumbar spine, and the exiting spinal nerve that is compressed or irritated, can affect what symptoms and where they are felt in your legs.

Here are a Few Facts About Sciatica:

  • Men and middle-aged adults are most susceptible to sciatica.  Men experience sciatica up to 3 time more than women. This condition most commonly affects adults in their 40s and 50s.
  • Diabetes can create similar pain to that of sciatica.  Diabetics experiencing shooting leg pain can often think it is sciatica.  Diabetic nerve pain can feel very similar to sciatic nerve pain, but both are very different in what is causing them.
  • Can dramatically change the way you walk. When coping with severe leg pain, many people compensate for the pain by adjusting the way they walk which can lead to an antalgic gait or limp.
  • Can be treated at home.  Because sciatica can be painful, many people assume that surgery is the only solution.  You may be surprised that these painful symptoms can be treated at home with simple therapies.  At home, patients can exercise, stretch, use over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, and hot and cold compresses to often relieve pain. Most cases resolve within the first 3 months of conservative treatment used at home or with the assistance of your primary care physician and a physical therapist.

If you are suffering from sciatic nerve pain and it is impacting your daily routine, work, or general quality of life, we can help you.  At the International Spine Institute, our surgeon Dr. Marco Rodriguez, routinely treats patients suffering from sciatica.  With proper diagnosis and conservative treatment, including physical therapy, many patients get better without surgical intervention. However, when the symptoms do not resolve with conservative care, one should seek the advice of a spine surgeon for further evaluation.  Dr. Rodriguez has had great success treating this painful condition with least invasive spine surgery. To see if you are a candidate for least invasive spine surgery, fill out our pain evaluation form, and submit your most recent MRI. Our staff will call you and gladly help you through the process of getting a Free MRI Review.

If you are interested in learning more about sciatica you can check out our blog post –  Everything you need to know about sciatica.

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