The sciatic nerve is not only the largest type of nerve in the body, but it is the longest one as well. Each human body has two sciatic nerves that extend from each side of the lower spine. The nerves then go through each buttock, down the back of the legs, and into the feet.
Pain that radiates along the sciatic nerve means the nerve is compressed, which results in pain and inflammation. This condition is called sciatica and is known to affect four out of ten people during their lifetime. In order to help you better understand this condition, here are five things you should know about Sciatica.
1. Know the Symptoms
Besides radiating pain, other symptoms of sciatica include:
- Excruciating pain that feels like an electric shock.
- Pain that worsens when coughing or sneezing.
- Pain after sitting or lying in the same position for too long.
- Pain in the leg that makes it difficult to stand or move.
The symptoms can vary from person to person. Also, some people experience acute sciatica, meaning an episode only lasts up to a few weeks. Others have chronic sciatica, which is considered a life-long condition with frequent episodes.
2. Know the Causes and Risk Factors
The sciatic nerve can become pressed for a number of reasons. One of which is a narrowing of the spinal canal in the lower back, which is a condition called lumbar spinal stenosis. Other common causes include degenerative disc disease, bone spurs, injury to the spine, pregnancy, and having muscle spasms in the buttocks or lower back.
Some people are at a higher risk of getting sciatica than others. These people include those who experience changes in their spine due to aging, those who are obese, and those who have a sedentary lifestyle. Sometimes sleeping on the wrong mattress or wearing high heels can increase the chances of getting sciatica.
Since diabetes is often known to cause nerve damage, those with this disease can also have an increased chance of getting sciatica.
3. Know About the Complications
Many people who get sciatica don’t just have it once and it goes away. For many people, this condition flares up on a regular basis. Some people choose to live with sciatic pain and do their best to manage the symptoms.
However, health experts warn that anytime a nerve gets compressed, there can be complications if it is not treated. Some complications associated with untreated sciatica include:
- Increased severity of pain
- Back problems
- Loss of feeling in the leg
- Loss of bowel or bladder function
In some cases, sciatica that is left untreated will also cause permanent nerve damage. When the sciatic nerve gets damaged, it can cause further problems such as muscle weakness, atrophy, paralysis, lack of coordination, dizziness, and a heavy sensation in the legs.
4. Know the Treatment Options Available
People who have mild cases of sciatica might simply treat it by taking over-the-counter pain medication or they might apply heat or cold to their legs to make them feel better. These types of treatment will only offer temporary relief.
Permanent treatment for sciatica will largely depend on what is causing it. The following types of surgical treatments are great options for those struggling with a chronic form of the condition.
Artificial Disc Replacement
When sciatica is caused by a breakdown of discs in the spine, one effective treatment option is artificial disc replacement. During this procedure, the damaged disc gets replaced by an artificial one. If several discs are damaged, this type of treatment is not an option.
This type of treatment involves getting an epidural steroid injection in the epidural space of the spinal column. The injection contains a steroid hormone called corticosteroid and has a primary function of reducing inflammation and decreasing pain. In order to best control chronic sciatic pain, some patients may need up to three injections in one year.
When sciatica is caused by a spinal compression fracture, a procedure called kyphoplasty can help. During this procedure, an orthopedic balloon gets inserted into the damaged vertebrae and helps return it to the correct position. Bone cement then gets injected to keep the vertebrae in its proper place.
Microscopic Lumbar Disectomy
Sciatica can be caused when herniated disc material is pressing on the root of the sciatic nerve. In these instances, a microscopic lumbar disectomy can be performed to remove part of the damaged disc. Disc fragments and anything protruding from the disc wall are removed as well.
5. Know Who to Contact for Help
If you are tired feeling pain associated with sciatica, you don’t have to suffer any longer. Simply contact Southwest Florida Neurosurgical & Rehab Associates to see how we can help. Not only do we provide surgical treatment options for taking care of sciatic pain once and for all, we offer tailored physical therapy for individualized sciatica treatment.