If you’ve ever experienced sciatica, you know how painful and debilitating it can be. And for those who are currently dealing with lower body nerve pain, Ashley Rogerson, MD, Orthopedic Spine Surgeon in the Spine Center at Tufts Medical Center, shares some important information on sciatica causes, symptoms and treatment options.
Sciatica: Symptoms and causes
The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body – running from the lower back down to the feet – and one of the most important ones, as it helps control your legs. If the sciatic nerve is pressured, injured or damaged, you can experience sciatica – a sharp, constant, burning painful or tingling sensation that typically runs down one side of your buttock and leg.
“Sciatica often gets worse with activity,” said Dr. Rogerson. “Sitting or standing can aggravate the pain, while lying down or walking can make it feel a bit better.”
Sciatica can be caused by a variety of spine and disc-related injuries or conditions. The most common causes of sciatica are degenerative disc disease (the breakdown of the discs that serve as cushions between the vertebra), herniated disc (the tearing of a disc, causing the jellylike substance inside to ooze out and put pressure on the sciatic nerve), spinal stenosis (arthritic spine) and isthmic spondylolisthesis (a condition in which one vertebra slips over another).
Who is affected
While anyone can suffer from sciatica at any time, the condition primarily affects people in their 40s.
“Some research has shown that up to 43 percent of people will experience sciatic nerve pain at some point in their lives,” said Dr. Rogerson. “So it’s really a much more common condition that you might think.”
Treatment and Recovery
Most sciatica cases will resolve on their own, but it can take weeks or even months before improvement is seen and a full recovery is made. Most people can find pain relief through a combination of heat/ice therapy, over the counter pain medications and physical therapy.
“I always recommend trying these conservative therapies for at least six weeks before exploring other options,” said Dr. Rogerson. “If these treatments prove ineffective, the second line therapies may include injections and/or prescription medications.”
If all other therapies have failed to reduce or relieve sciatica pain, if you experience numbness in your legs or feet, or if the pain becomes so intense that it affects quality of life, it may be time to explore surgical options with a spine expert.
“There are a number of surgical options that treat the underlying cause of your sciatic nerve pain,” said Dr. Rogerson. “The surgical intervention is tailored based on each individual patient’s diagnosis, activity level and lifestyle. It’s our mission to treat you pain and get you back to doing all the things you enjoyed doing before your sciatica.”
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