Sciatica is a very common problem that actually indicates an underlying health condition — usually related to some type of lower back problem. If you’re suffering from sciatica, you may experience pain that comes and goes or pain that is chronic and very severe.
What You Need to Know About Sciatica
Sciatica refers to pain, numbness, weakness, and/or tingling in the legs that begins in the lower back and moves through the buttock then down the sciatica nerve in the back of the leg. Sciatica itself is not a medical condition but rather a symptom of an underlying condition, such as a lumbar herniated disc or spinal stenosis.
The pain from sciatica may range from annoying and infrequent to constant, incapacitating pain. The symptoms can range in location and severity depending on the underlying cause. These symptoms occur when the sciatic nerve — the largest nerve in the body — is compressed or irritated.
There are many symptoms of sciatica:
You may also experience pain in the lower back with the leg pain, although the leg pain is usually much more severe. The sciatic nerve pain usually only affects one side of the lower body with pain that radiates from the lower back down the back of the thigh, although it’s possible to experience pain in both buttocks or legs.
The symptoms also depend on where the nerve root is compressed. The sciatic nerve has two nerve roots exiting the lumbar spine (L4 and L5) and three exiting the sacral segment (S1, S2, and S3).
S1 nerve root pain usually affects the outer areas of the foot and toes and causes weakness when standing on tiptoes. L4 nerve root pain usually affects the thigh. This can cause trouble straightening the leg. L5 nerve root pain can go to the big toe and ankle which may cause foot drop.
What Causes Sciatica?
The most effective way to treat chronic sciatica pain is treating the underlying cause. There are several sciatica causes that may lead to compression of the sciatica nerve. Most of these conditions involve lower back problems.
Lumbar Herniated Disc
A herniated disc results when the soft core of the disc herniates (leaks) through the harder outer core. Herniated discs — also called pinched nerves, ruptured discs, bulging discs, or slipped discs — can be very painful. While sciatica is the most common symptom of a herniated disc, you may also experience unexplained muscle weakness and pain that gets worse Sciatica_Sciatica_after standing.
This condition is actually caused by a small stress fracture which allows one vertebra to slip forward over another vertebra. The fracture, slipped vertebra, and collapse of the disc space can all lead to a pinched sciatic nerve.
Degenerative Disc Disease
Degenerative disc disease (DDD) isn’t actually a disease but rather a natural part of aging due to a loss of fluid in the discs and tiny cracks in the outer layer of the disc. DDD, also called osteoarthritis of the spine, can occur anywhere in the spine but it usually happens to the discs in the neck and lumbar region. In some people, a degenerated disc leads to irritation of a nerve root and sciatica.
Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal. Spinal stenosis of the lumbar region occurs naturally with aging and it’s a common cause of chronic sciatica pain in people over 60.
Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction
If the sacroiliac joint at the bottom of the spine becomes irritated, it can irritate the L5 nerve and cause sciatica nerve pain. This usually causes sciatica pain on the top of the foot and weakness of the foot.
There are many places at which the sciatic nerve can become irritated, including under the piriformis muscle of the buttock. If this muscle pinches the nerve root, it causes pain very similar to sciatica.
Chronic sciatica pain can be treated effectively with non-surgical remedies to relieve the pain and keep it from getting worse. Surgery should only be considered when the pain is very severe and does not respond to non-invasive treatment options.
The goal of non-surgical sciatic nerve pain treatment is relieving the pain and treating the underlying cause of the compressed nerve root. Most cases of sciatica can be resolved in a few weeks with treatment at a rehabilitation center.
Common sciatic nerve pain treatment includes pain medication and epidural steroid injections to reduce inflammation. Along with these standard treatments, chiropractic manipulation and massage therapy can also be effective to improve spinal column alignment that addresses the underlying cause of the pain or weakness.
Sciatica Treatment at NYDNRehab
At NYDNRehab, sciatic nerve pain is treated by addressing the underlying cause. The clinic focuses on non-invasive approaches, including the use of the CAREN system. CAREN, or Computer Assisted Rehabilitation Environment, is a virtual reality system that creates a multi-sensory experience to record data about back pain, posture, spinal stability, and other information that can better diagnose the problem and allow for more precise physical therapy.
NYDNRehab believes that sciatica requires fast and effective treatment to avoid long-term nerve damage and improve your quality of life. The clinic provides treatment options to prevent future pain while addressing spinal and nerve issues with a combination of physiotherapy, acupuncture, chiropractic care, and dynamic neuromuscular stabilization, which is a unique strategy that combines physiotherapy and chiropractic care to correct body alignment.