As just about anyone suffering from the conditionknows all too well, sciatica causes a variety ofextremely frustrating, and occasionallydebilitating, symptoms. In order to effectively treatthese symptoms, however, it is incredibly importantthat you turn to a medical professional to develop acomprehensive treatment plan that gives you thebest chance of overcoming your condition. Thewrong approach may prove completely ineffectiveand a waste of time, or worse, it might make yoursymptoms increase.
What is Sciatica?Before we can discuss how to manage sciatica, itis important to understand what this conditionactually entails. For starters, sciatica isn’t acondition itself, per se, but a collection ofsymptoms that may arise as a result of thecompression of the sciatic nerve in the lowerback (lumbar spine).The sciatic nerve is the longest and thickest nervein the body. This nerve horsetails off the spinalcord in the lower back and extends down throughthe buttocks, hips, and legs, before culminatingnear the toes. In short, the sciatic nerve isextremely important because it is instrumental inour ability to walk upright. Theproblem, however, is that sciatica is extremelycommon as a result of either damage ordeterioration to the lumbar spinal anatomy.
Causes of SciaticaOver the years, the anatomical elements that support the spinal column graduallydeteriorate. This wear and tear is extremely normal and an unavoidable part of thenatural aging process. The vertebral joints that connect adjacent vertebrae canbecome arthritic; the intervertebral discs that cushion and support vertebrae maybecome worn and ruptured; muscle can weaken; ligaments could calcify, and otherproblems might arise. The lower back is one of the most common places for problemsto develop because the lumbar spine is both highly flexible and also supports asignificant portion of the body’s weight. As a result, degenerative spine conditions areparticularly common in the lower back, which can directly lead to the compression ofthe sciatic nerve and causes sciatica in the lower extremities.Here are just a few of the conditions that can cause sciatica:• Herniated discs• Bulging discs• Facet disease• Spondylolisthesis• Spondylosis
Initial Treatment OptionsOne piece of good news when it comes to sciatica is that inmost cases, symptoms can normally be managed effectivelywith a tailored regimen of noninvasive techniques. Thesetreatments are designed to alleviate strain on the lower backand allow the sciatic compression to gradually abate. The useof low-impact exercises, stretching techniques, heatpacks, ice, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs areparticularly popular. In some instances, lifestyle changes mayalso be recommended to complement treatment. Forinstance, losing weight can be an effective treatment methodbecause the weight of carrying around excess body fat can putundue burden on the spine and exacerbate discomfort.
SurgeryWhile conservative means are usually effective for most people, in the event that sciatica causesdiscomfort that does not respond to noninvasive treatment, surgical decompression may beconsidered. The goal of this type of treatment is to physically remove the source of the sciaticnerve constriction and also ensure that spinal stability is maintained. Historically, spinal fusionwas the only real option in this instance. This type of procedure entails the opening of the spinalcolumn in order to remove the intervertebral disc and fuse adjacent vertebrae together. Theproblem with open spine surgery, however, is that it is major surgery that requireshospitalization, extensive rehabilitation, and puts the patient at risk for post-operativecomplications, such as infection and scar tissue formation.In recent years, advances in endoscopic technology have made minimally invasive spineprocedures a new, compelling option for some patients. These procedures can usually becompleted through a very small incision through which surgeons gently push aside soft tissue(rather than cutting it), which greatly shortens the recovery time. In fact, endoscopic proceduresare normally conducted on an outpatient basis.Each type of treatment has its own unique advantages and limitations, so it pays to explore youroptions, learn more about sciatica causes, and speak with several doctors before consenting toany one treatment.