The term sciatica describes the symptoms of leg pain and possibly tingling, numbness or weakness that travels from the lower back through the buttock and down the large sciatic nerve in the back of the leg.
The vast majority of people who experience sciatica get better with time (usually a few weeks or months) and find pain relief with non-surgical sciatica treatment. For others, however, sciatica can be severe and debilitating.
Sciatica is often caused by a problem in the lower back called a radiculapothy. A nerve root that connects to the sciatic nerve becomes compressed or irritated. The most common cause of sciatica is a herniated disc. This occurs when the soft inner core of the disc (nucleus pulposus) extrudes or “herniates” through the fibrous outer core (annulus) of the disc, irritating the contiguous nerve root as it exits the spine. While a sudden twisting motion or injury can lead to a disc herniation and sciatica, most problems occur with repetitive stress. Over time the discs weaken, resulting in a herniation. A herniated disc is sometimes referred to as a slipped disk, ruptured disk, bulging disc, protruding disc, or a pinched nerve and sciatica is the most common symptom of a lumbar herniated disc.
The most conservative treatment to relieve sciatic pain would be an application of a cold pack to the effected area to reduce inflammation and relieve discomfort. After 48 hours, a heating pad on the lowest setting should help to alleviate some of the pain. If pain persists, alternate warm and cold packs. Stretching, particularly the hamstrings and lower back, also helps.
Non prescription pain pills and anti-inflammatories can also provide relief. Chiropractic treatments may also be worthwhile. Once pain has subsided, physical therapy and regular exercise may help build the supporting muscles of the lower back.
If pain persisits, your health care professional may prescribe a muscle relaxant along with anti-inflammaory medications. We may also recommend Epidural Steroid Injections if pain persists for more than three to six months.
Surgery is most often a last resort and left until the compressed nerve causes significant weakness, loss of bowel or bladder control or if the pain itself is progressing and conventional sciatica treatment is not working. Most often surgery is preformed as a sciatica treatment to remove a portion of a herniated disc that is pressing on a nerve. The goal is to preserve as much of the normal anatomy as possible, leaving as much of the disc intact as possible.