Sciatica: Causes and Treatments

What treatments are available for sciatica pain?

Have you ever had someone tell you that your pain is all in your head? That what you are describing isn’t real? Annoying, right? Anyone who has experienced that unique pain that shoots down the length of the leg as it follows the sciatic nerve, knows just how real it is! There is some truth, however, in the fact that sciatica is not a real condition. As extreme as it feels, you might think they would give it its own classification, but, in fact, sciatica is a symptom of other conditions.

The sciatic nerve is the largest in the body, running from the lower back down below the knee. Sciatica refers to the pain that results from the nerve being compressed, usually due to a slipped (herniated) disk. This can also cause inflammation, numbness and a tingling sensation, often described as “pins and needles” in the feet and toes.

According to the National Institute of Health, “Sciatica is the most frequently encountered symptom in neurosurgical practice and is observed in 40% of adults at some point in their lives.”

Common Causes of Sciatica

Although caused roughly 90% of the time by a herniated disk, other common causes of sciatica include:

  • Tumors pressing on the sciatic nerve
  • Infection or Injury within the spine
  • Lumbar spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal in the lumbar area
  • Spondylolisthesis, where one vertebra slides forward over the one below it

In many cases, one single cause cannot be identified. Anything that irritates or puts pressure on the sciatic nerve can result in sciatica.

Treatment Methods

Whether sciatica is acute, lasting less than eight weeks, or chronic, continuing past the eight-week mark, determines how it will be treated. Usually, acute sciatic pain, can be taken care of at home. Some combination of over the counter pain medications, light exercise and hot and cold packs should be sufficient.

Chronic sciatica, however, is more likely to require professional care. Some of the more common protocols are:

  • Prescription painkillers
  • Physical therapy
  • Chiropractic care
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (psychological pain management)

If the pain does respond to other treatments, it is possible that surgery will be recommended. All surgical procedures carry risk that should be carefully weighed against the expected benefits.

The best treatment for sciatica is to take steps to prevent it from happening, at least in as many cases as possible. Options include making sure to get regular exercise, maintain good posture control while sitting or standing and making sure you use the proper methods when doing any lifting, whether you believe the object is heavy or not.

At Long Island Spine Rehabilitation Medicine, our physicians are committed to more than just treating your symptoms. We focus on finding the underlying cause and providing non-surgical, evidenced based solutions tailored to your specific condition and needs. If you have questions or are experiencing sciatica or any sort of lower back or leg pain, we invite you to schedule a consultation by simply calling (516) 268-0070 or using our convenient online form by clicking here.