What is “sciatica”? Sciatica is a term used to refer to agroup of symptoms that arise when the sciatic nerve iscompressed. These symptoms can include shootingpain, numbness, muscle weakness, and parasthesia(tingling) in the lowerback, buttocks, hips, legs, feet, and/or toes.There are a variety of spinal conditions that can lead tosciatica, the most common being herniateddiscs, bulging discs, bone spurs, spinal stenosis, andspondylolisthesis. These are all anatomicalabnormalities that can develop due to age-relateddegeneration, injuries, genetics, overexertion, poorposture, or other various causes.
Can Sciatica Be Prevented?Is there anything I can do to prevent sciatica? Sciatica cannot be prevented per se.For instance, if someone has a family history of sciatica, he or she may develop thecondition no matter how closely they pay attention to maintaining the health oftheir spine. However, there are a variety of ways that you can maintain spinalstrength and stability in order to lower the risk of premature degeneration andrelated conditions like sciatica.Risk factors to avoid include: • Smoking • Obesity • Poor diet • High-impact exercise • Excessive alcohol consumption • Repetitive stress activities • A sedentary lifestyle
Getting a Sciatica DiagnosisIf you are experiencing symptoms and you think they mayactually be sciatica, schedule a consultation with yourprimary care physician for a physical exam and a review ofyour symptoms. Your physician will likely ask you whatkinds of symptoms you have been experiencing, so try todescribe them in as much detail as possible. He or she mayalso order medical imaging tests like an X-ray, MRI, or CTscan to get a detailed view of the spinal column and anyanatomical abnormalities that may be present. Sciatica canusually be diagnosed by a primary care physician, though insome cases you may be referred to a spine specialist for asecond opinion.
Conservative Sciatica TreatmentsThe good news is that sciatica is fairly common and can usually be managed with aregimen of conservative (nonsurgical) treatments. Once a diagnosis has beenconfirmed by your physician, you can begin an appropriate treatment plan that mayinclude pain medication, physical therapy, hot compresses, ice packs, stretching, mildexercise, or behavior modification. Corticosteroid injections, transcutaneous electricalnerve stimulation, analgesic pain patches, or ultrasound therapy may also be options ifother treatments prove ineffective.The goals of conservative treatment are: • Relieve the symptoms associated with nerve compression • Learn to avoid behaviors that exacerbate or trigger symptoms • Maintain/improve the health and strength of the spine so as to support stability and mobility • Avoid the need for surgery
Alternative TreatmentsAlternative treatments may also offer some relief fromthe symptoms of sciatica, though the efficacy of thesetherapies is continuously debated among medicalprofessionals. Integrating alternative treatmentslike yoga, acupuncunture,acupressure, massage, homeopathicremedies, or dietary /herbalsupplements into your prescribedtreatment plan is something youshould discuss thoroughly withyour physician.
Sciatica SurgeryOnly in rare cases is surgery necessary for sciatica. It should be reserved forpatients whose quality of life is severely compromised and whose symptomsdo not respond to nonsurgical treatments.Sciatica surgery will be aimed at relieving pressure being placed on the sciaticnerve by disc material, bone spurs, enlarged ligaments, or displacedvertebrae. Both laser spine surgery and open spine surgery are available forthe treatment of this degenerative spine condition, though a variety of factorswill go into determining which type of procedure is best for each patient.Regardless, you should keep in mind that surgery should almost always beconsidered as a last resort for the treatment of sciatica. Speak with multiplesurgeons and spine specialists before making a final decision and be sure thatyou have tried a comprehensive range of conservative treatments first.