What Are the Common Causes of Sciatica?

woman with lower back painSciatica is a common, painful symptom that can make it difficult to stand or sit.

In this blog, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Steven Schiebert of New Jersey Spine Surgeons explains more about sciatica, including its causes and treatments.

What is sciatica?

Sciatica is pain that affects the sciatic nerve, which is the longest nerve in the body. It extends from the lower back and runs through your hips, buttocks, legs, and feet on both sides of your body.

This type of pain can come on suddenly or gradually and can vary in intensity. It can feel like a mild ache, a bad cramp, or very severe, shooting pain that makes standing or sitting very uncomfortable and difficult.

What causes sciatica?

A variety of issues can cause pressure on the sciatic nerve, including the following:

  • Herniated disc in your lower spine – occurs when the inside of the disc pushes against its outer ring
  • Bone spurs - a bony outgrowth or progression
  • Spinal stenosis – narrowing of the spinal canal that’s most common in people age 50 and over
  • Piriformis syndrome – occurs when the piriformis muscle in the buttocks puts pressure on the sciatic nerve
  • Spondylolisthesis – occurs when a vertebra slips out of place, narrowing the amount of space through which the nerve exits
  • Osteoarthritis – can lead to disc changes and bone spurs
  • Injuries – can fracture or inflame part of your spine
  • Tumors – growths that touch the spinal cord may cause it to narrow
  • Paget’s disease – causes your bones to grow large and brittle, which narrows the spinal canal
  • Degenerative disc disease – causes your spinal discs to break down
  • Muscle spasm – in the back or buttocks
  • Pregnancy – the developing baby can put pressure on the sciatic nerve

What are the symptoms of sciatica?

It usually affects just one side of the body, and the effects can range from irritating to severe and can sometimes worsen over time.

Symptoms include the following:

  • Pain in the leg, hip, lower back, or rear end
  • Difficulty standing or sitting
  • Pain that can worsen when you sneeze or cough
  • Weakness or numbness in your leg or toes
  • A burning or tingling sensation in your leg or toes
  • Difficulty moving the leg or foot
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control

What are some common treatment options?

Treatment can help decrease pain and increase mobility. It may include the following:

  • Lifestyle modifications – resting and avoiding painful positions and activities
  • Medication – can include anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants, or anti-seizure medications
  • Physical therapy – can be used once your pain is less severe to help strengthen muscles and help improve your posture and flexibility
  • Corticosteroid injections – can help reduce inflammation around the irritated nerve. Injections can cause side effects, however, especially if they’re used too frequently
  • Surgery – can be used if more conservative treatments aren’t effective enough or if you have significant weakness. For example, or a herniated disc is putting pressure on the sciatic nerve, part of it can be removed.

If you think you may be suffering from sciatica, make an appointment today with Dr. Schiebert of New Jersey Spine Surgeons. He offers conservative treatments whenever possible and also specializes in spine surgery.

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