Sciatica is named after the longest nerve in the body: the sciatic nerve. It starts off in the lower back, or lumbar region, of the spine, and it runs all the way down to your knee.
The problem with sciatica starts when the jelly-like discs between the smooth bones of the spine start to rupture. The jelly then pushes on the root of the sciatic nerve in the lumbar region. The pain is felt down one leg or another, depending on where the disc bulges. You can feel the pain in your back and top of your buttocks, or it can shoot all the way down your leg to your knee.
A herniated or bulging disc is the most common cause of sciatica, but you can have a few other conditions that impinge on this nerve and cause pain. For instance, spinal stenosis can cause you to have sciatica. This is when the column that the spinal cord travels through becomes narrow and pressed on the nerve. Spinal tumors can press on the sciatic nerve and cause pain. One common reason for sciatica is also trauma or injury, such as you would experience in a car accident. This can cause the discs in the lumbar region to burst open and push on the sciatic nerve. Another common cause, spondylolisthesis, occurs when one vertebrae gets out of alignment with the bone below it. This puts strain on the disc and can cause the herniation that leads to sciatica.
The most common symptom of sciatica is pain, but it is not the only symptom. You can have pain that is localized to your back, but with sciatica, the pain runs down the back of your thigh and sometimes calf. It follows the track of the nerve that supplies feeling to the whole leg, even though the problem starts out in the lower back.
You can also experience numbness and tingling in your leg from sciatica. If motor nerves, or the nerves concerned with movement, are affected, you can have weakness in your leg and sometimes paralysis. Sometimes you can feel the numbness and tingling all the way to your toes, but this is a sign that you have a severe nerve problem.
Another sign that means you should see your doctor is trouble controlling your bowel or bladder. This indicates that the autonomic, or organ, nerves are involved and more definitive care is needed.
We believe in using the most non-invasive measures to treat your sciatica first. Physical therapy, exercises, and stretches are all important in helping your back heal.
In more extreme cases, injections and surgery may be necessary. Injections are usually anti-inflammatory medications that are applied directly to the spine. These injections help control the swelling in the area, and they can help cut down on pain. Sometimes surgery is necessary to remove the offending disc and fuse the two vertebrae together.
If you are having sciatica pain, don’t hesitate to contact Spine Center of Texas.