If you have pain that begins in your lower back, spreads to one side, and then shoots down one buttock – ultimately traveling down the back of your leg – you may be experiencing sciatica.
Sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve, which is the longest nerve in your body, is compressed. This usually happens by a direct traumatic injury (e.g., a motor vehicle crash), a medical condition (such as diabetes, tumors, abscesses, pregnancy, or excess weight), or a spinal condition (such as arthritis, degenerative disc, herniated disc, spondylolisthesis, or spinal stenosis).
The resulting pressure irritates the sciatic nerve and creates a variety of symptoms. Besides severe pain, these symptoms may include a tingling sensation, weakness, or numbness in your calf, foot, or toes. In fact, the pain and weakness may be so severe that you can’t move your foot, bend your knee, or walk.
It even may be difficult to shift from a seated to a standing position. Also, sciatica can cause pain when you merely sneeze, cough, laugh, or have a bowel movement. In rare severe cases, sciatica can even cause loss of bowel and bladder control.
With spinal stenosis, the roots of the sciatic nerve become compressed when the spinal canal or vertebrae openings become narrow where the nerves branch out. This is frequently caused by the gradual degeneration of the spine as one ages.
Spondylolisthesis, on the other hand, can cause sciatica when a vertebra degenerates and shifts forward out of alignment, resulting in pressure on sciatic nerve roots, and muscle spasms.
Sciatica can also be triggered by osteoarthritis that causes vertebral bone cartilage to slowly wear away. Arthritis can result in abnormal bone growths that reach into the spinal canal and vertebral joints, compressing the sciatic nerve.
Degenerative disc disease affecting the lower back can occur during aging, due to a loss of water content in the discs. As a result, they become shorter and less flexible, providing less space between the vertebrae. This affects the structure of your spine and can place pressure on the roots of your sciatic nerve.
The Root of Your Pain
An orthopedic doctor can determine the cause of your sciatic nerve pain by performing a physical exam, assessing your joint motion and stability, and testing your reflexes and sensations. In addition, your doctor may order lab tests to rule out any diseases as the source of your sciatica, and may order imaging studies to identify the exact location and extent of your sciatic nerve compression.
Solutions for Sciatica
Sciatica is often successfully treated without resorting to surgical methods. Pain-relieving options include over-the-counter or prescription medication, steroid injections, and physical therapy. If these methods fail to improve your symptoms and you’re experiencing considerable loss of function or disabling pain, your doctor will discuss appropriate surgical options for you.
Orthopedic Expertise in Northeast Ohio
If you or a loved one is suffering from sciatic nerve pain, you need a reputable, board-certified, and fellowship-trained orthopedist who can educate you about your options. The staff at Orthopaedic Associates utilizes both cutting-edge therapies and traditional treatments to address a variety of painful conditions.
For more information, or to schedule a consultation, call (440) 892-1440 or request an appointment online. We look forward to helping you improve your orthopedic health.