Introduction to Sciatica
Sciatica is the term given to pain along the lower back and leg caused by the compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve.
What is Sciatica?
Sciatica is the term given to pain along the lower back and leg caused by the compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve. This nerve travels from your pelvis down the length of your leg. Complications involving the sciatic nerve can present as pain or a tingling, numbing sensation.
What are the causes for Sciatica?
Over 90% of sciatica cases are caused by a slipped disc or herniation. This is when the tissue in between your two vertebrae is displaced and starts to compress the sciatic nerve root.
Other less common causes of sciatica include narrowing of the passageways through which the sciatic nerve travels (stenosis), infections, tumours and growths that compress the spine or sciatic nerve.
Sciatica is often a complication in pregnancy and is caused by the weight of the foetus compressing the sciatic nerve in certain positions.
What are the symptoms of Sciatica?
Sciatica symptoms involves intense, debilitating pain.
This pain is often worse upon sudden movements such as reflexes, sneezing and coughing. Additionally many patients find that sitting for extended periods of time worsens the pain, while lying down can provide relief.
Severe cases of sciatica can limit the range of motion in the affected leg to the point where it affects walking, balance and if left untreated can eventually cause muscle wasting.
There is a diagnostic test you can conduct at home that 90% of sciatica cases test positive for:
Step 1: This is involves lying on your back on a flat surface with straight legs. Step 2: Have someone raise your legs without any exertion on your behalf and if this causes you pain then seeing a clinician is recommended.
How is Sciatica treated?
While many cases resolve themselves within 6-8 weeks without intervention there are a range of treatment options available if symptoms persist.
Painkillers are often prescribed with the recommendation of lifestyle changes such as weight loss and exercise, the latter of which can be supported with physiotherapy. Anti-inflammatory injections are used in cases that don’t respond to initial therapies.
In severe cases of sciatica caused by a disc herniation surgical intervention may be required and the patient undergoes a discectomy. This is a procedure aimed at alleviating the compression caused by disc herniations by removing a portion of the disc tissue.