What is Sciatica?
We’re all familiar with the term sciatica, and we know it has something to do with back pain. But here at New Jersey Spine Specialists, we find even some patients with the condition aren’t sure what sciatica actually is. So there’s the answer: Sciatica is a general term for a collection of symptoms caused by spinal compression of the sciatic nerve or any of its components. Sciatica can cause pain that originates in the lower back and extends through the buttocks, legs and feet. Shooting pain in the legs, cramping, muscle weakness, tingling sensation and numbness are also common symptoms of sciatica. Sciatica usually affects only one side of the body, but it can affect both, and in severe cases sciatica can result in loss of mobility.
So how does one nerve cause so many different symptoms? The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body, running from the base of the spine down through both legs and is formed from 5 nerve bundles that unite together. More specifically, these are the L4, L5, S1, S2, and S3 nerve roots. The sciatic nerve controls the muscles in the back of the knee and lower leg and provides sensation to the back of the thigh, part of the lower leg and the sole of the foot. If a slipped disc, herniated disc, disc protrusion, bone spur or other spinal problem in the lower back impinges on any of the nerve roots mentioned, the symptoms can be expressed in any part of the body that the sciatic nerve controls. Sciatica can be caused by changes to the spinal column resulting from the normal aging process, such as disc protrusion, herniation, and other spinal problems associated with degenerative disc disease. Sciatica may also be caused by injury, prolonged external pressure on the nerve such as from a tumor or abscess, and even medical conditions that affect the entire body, such as diabetes mellitus.
Nonsurgical treatments for sciatica include rest, special exercises for relief of sciatica, physical therapy, medications, and cortisone injections to the lumbar spine. These treatments provide excellent relief of pain in the majority of patients suffering with sciatica. In severe cases and those that do not respond to these nonoperative measures, surgery for sciatica may be an option. Today, minimally invasive spinal surgery including microdiscectomy can provide patients with excellent pain relief. Although performed less commonly, laser spinal surgery and endoscopic discectomy, are additional surgical options that could be considered for properly chosen patients. If you are suffering with sciatica, many treatment options are available to you. Be certain that any facility or practitioner with whom you choose to receive treatment has the proper credentials and qualifications to provide you with the most advanced and appropriate care available. For example, at New Jersey Spine Specialists with offices in Summit and Montclair, our physicians are board certified orthopedic surgeons and have completed additional fellowship training in spine surgery. We advise all patients to seek the very best spinal care possible.