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What Is Sciatica?


Sciatica is a type of debilitating back pain caused by a pinched sciatic nerve. The pain travels along the nerve, which extends from your lower back, down one side of your hips and buttocks, along your leg toward your foot. In most cases, sciatica symptoms appear only on one side of your body. Lower back pain strikes 85 percent of Americans. In addition to sciatica, common causes of lower back pain include:

Understanding why your back hurts and administering the most effective treatment is the mission of the top spine specialists from Premier Brain & Spine. Untreated, even minor back pain can develop further complications. Sciatica infringes on your ability to move freely and becomes increasingly more painful without the proper diagnosis and treatment. Visit the New Jersey spine center in Hackensack, Paterson, Edison, Union, Rutherford, Freehold, Bayonne, West Orange, or West Caldwell or in Goshen, New York to talk with the spine experts.

What Causes Sciatica?

The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in your body. It stems from the nerve roots near the bottom of your spine. It’s also the main nerve in your leg. When you develop symptoms of sciatica, it’s usually because somewhere along the nerve path, usually in your lower back, the sciatic nerve becomes pinched. This builds pressure inside the nerve, resulting in pain.

Most sciatica sufferers develop the condition because of another, underlying problem that’s causing the sciatic pain. Your NJ spine doctor uncovers the condition causing the pinched nerve before deciding on the best treatment approach for you. Conditions that can lead to sciatic pain include:

  • A slipped or herniated disc, a condition where the soft cushion between your spinal bones that prevents friction as you move spills its core, pressing on the sciatic nerve
  • Spinal stenosis, a condition that causes narrowing of the spinal canal, which can turn into a serious issue if the spinal cord is also affected, resulting in myelopathy
  • Spondylolisthesis, which occurs when a vertebra in your spine moves out of position, an abnormality that sometimes causes the spine to curve more in a condition called kyphosis
  • Spinal tumors that develop in such a way on the spine that it affects the sciatic nerve
  • Piriformis syndrome, which occurs when the piriformis muscle located in your buttocks develops problems, which in turn irritates the sciatic nerve

Am I at Risk of Getting Sciatica?

Most people between the ages of 30 and 50 develop sciatica due to the constant wear and tear that happens as you age. This often results from a condition called osteoarthritis, a type of arthritis. You may also feel pain because of a sudden pressure build-up on the spinal discs that act as cushions between the vertebrae bones in your lower back.

Arthritis or overgrowth of bone on the vertebrae, called bone spurs, are usually the main cause of sciatica for people over the age of 50. Besides age, your lifestyle may also put you at risk of getting sciatica. Risks of developing a pinched nerve in your lower back include:

  • Being overweight and putting more stress on your spine, which triggers changes to the internal spinal structures and leads to sciatica
  • Working in a job that harms your back with extensive physical labor, especially if you often twist or bend your back, carry heavy loads or drive for extended periods
  • Leading a sedentary lifestyle, as sitting for long periods of time weakens the back muscles that support you when you stand or walk
  • Developing diabetes, which also increases your risk of damaging the sciatic nerve

What Are the Symptoms of Sciatica?

The direct motor function of your hips and hamstrings and the indirect motor function of your calf muscles, lower leg muscles and some foot muscles are all governed by the sciatic nerve. When you find that your leg goes to sleep often, it may be one of the signs that you have sciatica.A pins and needles sensation, along with numbness, usually means that you either have or are developing a compressed nerve.

Most sufferers complain of varying degrees of pain. You may experience the pain more sharply in the buttocks, leg and foot than in your lower back. Common descriptions of the pain range from dull and aching pain to shooting, electric shock or a burning sensation. Your spine specialist pinpoints exactly where the sciatic nerve has developed problems through symptoms such as:

  • Pain, tingling and numbness in your thigh, along with muscle weakness when you try to straighten your leg
  • Decreased knee jerk reflexes during your examination
  • Pain, tingling and numbness affecting your foot and big toe on one side of your body
  • Worsening pain when you bend, twist, lift objects, sit down, cough, laugh or sneeze
  • Tingling and numbness on the outside of one foot that’s fairly consistent
  • Feeling weak when you stand on tiptoes and display a decreased ankle jerk reflex

Is There a Cure for Sciatica?

Almost 90 percent of sciatica sufferers find relief using non-surgical treatments. Try taking over-the-counter medication like ibuprofen or aspirin, along with a muscle relaxant. You may also see results with a hot or cold compress on the pain area.

Contrary to popular belief, bed rest is the last thing you need. Your NJ orthopedics expert instead recommends that you keep moving to reduce inflammation and keep a healthy blood circulation in your legs as you resolve the pinched nerve. Your back specialist at the spine and neuro center typically recommends non-invasive treatments first, such as:

  • Physiotherapy with targeted exercises to increase your core strength, stretching your back and leg muscles
  • Walking to maintain circulation and prevent atrophy
  • Swimming or aquatic exercises that lightly work the core muscles and keep pressure off your leg as it heals
  • Yoga to keep your muscles pliable
  • Spinal manipulation and deep tissue massages to stimulate the muscles
  • Corticosteroid injections to put anti-inflammatory medicine and painkilling drugs right where they’re needed

Can I Prevent Sciatica from Coming Back?

If you don’t make some lifestyle changes, the chances of sciatica returning is high. Your spine care center team recommends reducing the weight you’re carrying and keeping tabs on your food intake. Prevent a recurrence by maintaining proper posture when standing, lifting and sitting, even when driving. When sitting, use a rolled towel or a pillow to support your lower back, keeping your hips and knees level.

Exercise regularly and do more stretching to keep your spine and leg muscles nimble. If you’re a smoker, quit, as smoke clogs your blood vessels. Consulting with a top-notch NJ ortho spine specialist at the first sign of a backache can help you avoid surgery. Contact Premier Brain & Spine today to book an appointment.

Updated on Jul 27, 2022 by Dr. David Wells-Roth (Neurosurgeon) of Premier Brain & Spine

Premier Brain & Spine
10 Parsonage Rd, Suite 208A
Edison, NJ 08837
(732) 258-0190