The lower back can cause you all sorts of trouble, but most people don’t know that problems in that region can lead to pain in your leg. Sciatica is named after the longest nerve in the body, the sciatic nerve. It starts off in the lower back, or lumbar region, of the spine, and it runs all the way down to your knee.
The problem with sciatica starts when the jelly-like discs between the smooth bones of the spine start to rupture. The jelly then pushes on the root of the sciatic nerve in the lumbar region, and the pain is felt down one leg or another, depending on where the disc bulges.
You can feel the pain in your back and top of your buttocks, or it can shoot all the way down your leg to your knee. We see sciatica regularly, and we are skilled at managing your pain and finding ways to heal your problem.
A herniated or bulging disc is the most common cause of sciatica, but you can have a few other conditions that impinge on this nerve and cause pain. For instance, spinal stenosis can cause you to have sciatica. This is when the column that the spinal cord travels through becomes narrow and the nerve is pressed on.
Spinal tumors can press on the sciatic nerve and cause pain. One common reason for sciatica is also trauma or injury, such as you would experience in a car accident. This can cause the discs in the lumbar region to burst open and push on the sciatic nerve.
Another cause, spondylolisthesis, occurs when one vertebrae gets out of alignment with the bone below it. This puts strain on the disc and can cause the herniation that leads to sciatica.
The most common symptom of sciatica is pain, but it is not the only symptom. You can have pain that is localized to your back, but with sciatica, the pain runs down the back of your thigh and sometimes calf. It follows the track of the nerve that supplies feeling to the whole leg, even though the problem starts out in the lower back.
You can also experience numbness and tingling in your leg from sciatica. If motor nerves, or the nerves concerned with movement, are affected, you can have weakness in your leg and sometimes paralysis.
Sometimes you can feel the numbness and tingling all the way to your toes, but this is a sign that you have a severe nerve problem. Another sign that means you should see your doctor is trouble controlling your bowel or bladder. This indicates that the autonomic, or organ, nerves are involved and more definitive care is needed.
We believe in using the most non-invasive measures for your sciatica first. Physical therapy, exercises, and stretches are all important in helping the disc in your back to heal and stop putting pressure on the nerve. You can also take medications, such as ibuprofen, to help ease the pain and swelling in your back.
In some rare cases, a more powerful medication, such as a narcotic may be necessary to allow you to perform exercises that will heal your back. In recent years, certain anti-depressants and anti-seizure medications are also used to help the nerve pain from sciatica.
In more extreme cases, injections and surgery may be necessary. Injections are usually anti-inflammatory medications that are applied directly to the spine. These injections help control the swelling in the area, and they can help cut down on pain.
When you don’t have pain, you are able to conduct exercises to rehabilitate your back without surgery. Sometimes surgery is necessary to remove the offending disc and fuse the two vertebrae together. This does not always relieve pain, though, because the nerve may already be too damaged. In addition, it leads to a loss of movement in the back.
If you are having sciatica pain, Sports and Spine Orthopaedics can help. Our cutting edge spinal surgeon, Dr. Wolf, can help you find a treatment path with the least invasive methods possible. There are multiple options to try before you need to decide if spinal surgery is the right course of action.
If it isn’t, our team of pain management professionals can help you to deal with your sciatica and overcome it. Call us for a consultation today and come in to one of our Los Angeles CA offices so you can stop living with your back pain.