Back pain is one of the leading causes of disability in the United States. Whether caused by injury, defects of the spine, or a degenerative disease, the pain can make even the most routine tasks seem like a massive effort.
Sciatica, especially, has the ability to stop you dead in your tracks. The gripping, intense pain that it brings is not easily relieved, often causing frustration, anxiety, and dismay. Herniated discs are often the cause of sciatica, so it’s fair to say that the two go hand in hand.
What is sciatic nerve pain?
Sciatic nerve pain, also known as sciatica, is pain associated with the sciatic nerve. When the nerve is compressed, pinched, or trapped, it can cause intense, even excruciating pain that radiates down the leg, sometimes all the way to your feet.
The pain can be sharp and stabbing, but it is also characterized by numbness and tingling that radiates down the back of one or both legs. For some, sciatic spasms can be so intense that it is impossible to think about anything else.
Causes of sciatica
We all have two sciatic nerves, one on either side of our body. These nerves start in the spine and extend down the leg. When there is a herniated disc present, it may compress the nerve and cause it to flare. However, there are several other possible causes of sciatica.
Sciatica can also be caused by an inflamed piriformis muscle, which runs directly over the sciatic nerve at the bottom of your buttocks. If this muscle is overworked or stiff, it can compress the sciatic nerve, causing intense pain. If this is the cause of the sciatica, stretching the piriformis muscle may give you relief. In severe cases, a steroid injection may reduce the inflammation enough to release the nerve.
Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal, which is essentially a conduit for your nerves and spinal cord. This narrowing may put pressure on the sciatic nerve and cause it to flare up. Stenosis is something you can be born with, but it can also develop later in life. It is most common in adults over the age of 60. There is no cure for stenosis, but anti-inflammatory medications may help if there are symptoms present.
Herniated discs are hands-down the most common cause of sciatic nerve pain. Positioned in between each vertebra, the discs in your spine can best be described as cushions. As we age, they tend to degenerate, but other things can cause them to bulge, such as injury, or being overweight. If a disc herniates, bulges, or slips out from between the vertebrae, this may cause it to press on the sciatic nerve. Depending on the disc that is affected, the pain may manifest itself in various places, including the lower back, the hip, the side and back of the leg, the calf, or the foot.
Treatment for herniated discs and sciatica largely depends on the severity of the situation and can range from stretching exercises to orthopedic or neurosurgery.
Exercise is the first line of defense, focusing on strengthening the core muscles and releasing the piriformis.
NSAIDs can sometimes help, as can steroid injections and medications for nerve pain, such as pregabalin. In any case, it is essentials to obtain an accurate diagnosis before committing to a course of treatment.
If you are suffering from sciatica, with or without herniated discs, we can help. Reach out today to find out how to get started.