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What Is Sciatica: Discover the Causes and Effects of This Neurological Disease on Your Health

elder woman having lower back pain

Story at-a-glance -

  • Sciatica is one of the most misunderstood neurological conditions associated with lower back pain
  • When you develop sciatica, it usually indicates an underlying condition in your spine that needs to be addressed

Sciatica is one of the most misunderstood neurological conditions associated with lower back pain. Many think that it is a disease, but it is basically a term used to describe a collection of symptoms that results from the compression of your sciatic nerve.1 When you develop sciatica, it usually indicates an underlying condition in your spine that needs to be addressed. Some spinal problems that can lead to sciatica include:2

Lumbar herniated disc: A herniated spinal disc can leak proteins that irritate your sciatic nerve.

Degenerative disc disease: A spinal disc can crack due to old age, which can affect your sciatic nerve as a result.

Isthmic spondylolisthesis: A spinal vertebra can slip forward on top of another, pinching your sciatic nerve.

Piriformis syndrome: Certain movements made by your piriformis muscle, which is located in your buttocks, can irritate your sciatic nerve.

Lumbar spinal stenosis: This condition is the narrowing of your spinal canal due to inflammation, which can pinch the nerves in the spinal column.

Sacroiliac joint dysfunction: Unnatural movements experienced by the sacroiliac joint located at the bottom of your spine can irritate your sciatic nerve.

The Symptoms of Sciatica and How to Diagnose Them

Should you develop any of the spinal problems mentioned above, sciatica will most likely occur. One of its most significant indicators is pain that starts from your lumbar spine, down to your buttock and into your leg. The degree of pain can range from mild to severe depending on how the nerve is pinched.

In addition, you may also feel numbness and muscle weakness. In rare cases, sciatica may cause problems in regular motor function, such as bladder and bowel control.3

Diagnosing sciatica usually begins with physical tests focused on your lower back. For example, your doctor may ask you to walk on your toes and rise from a squatting position. If pain arises from these activities, your doctor most likely will diagnose you with sciatica. But to further confirm the findings, you may need to undergo the following tests:4

X-ray: Results from this test may show bony overgrowths that are irritating your nerves.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): This procedure produces accurate images of both bones and tissue to pinpoint the exact source of the pain.

Computed tomography (CT) scan: This method involves injecting your spinal column with a contrasting dye. This will help your doctor examine your nerves accurately once the images are printed.

Electromyography (EMG): This test examines your nervous system’s ability to respond to stimulation.

Despite the Problems Sciatica Can Create, It Is a Treatable Condition

While the symptoms of sciatica may become severe, it is fortunately a treatable condition, as long as it is acted upon immediately. Common methods include applying ice or hot packs to the painful area, as well as specialized physical therapy. Other alternative treatments that may prove effective include acupuncture and massage.5

However, if noninvasive treatments have been exhausted and proven to be ineffective, the last resort is typically surgery. If you wish to push forward with this decision, it’s important to know the risks involved, especially since you will be operated on your spinal column. Discuss the suggested procedures with your doctor and what your recovery plan will be after the operation.6


Sciatica: An Introduction

What Is Sciatica?

Sciatica Symptoms

Sciatica Causes

Sciatica Treatment

Sciatica Pain Relief

Sciatica Exercises

Sciatica Surgery

Sciatica Prevention

Sciatica During Pregnancy

Sciatica Diet

Sciatica FAQ

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