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What Is Sciatica?

Sciatica is a distinctive pain that radiates along the pathway of the sciatic nerve, which originates in the lower back and runs down the back of each leg. This tell-tale symptom occurs when the sciatic nerve becomes pinched or inflamed, which often results from age-related degenerative changes in the spine, such as a bone spur or herniated disc. Sciatic nerve compression can also result from a spasm in the piriformis muscle or a direct blow to the lumbar spine. Typically, sciatica will flare for a few weeks and then resolve, only to return later (unless the source of the pain is addressed).

What does sciatica feel like?

Sciatic nerve pain can take several forms. For instance, it may cause:

  • A burning feeling
  • Electric-shock-like pain
  • Numbness
  • Tingling and pins-and-needles sensations
  • Leg muscle weakness
  • Leg cramps
  • Lower back or leg pain that worsens with sitting, coughing or sneezing

Additionally, in very severe cases, sciatica can cause a loss of bowel or bladder control. This rare but serious complication warrants emergency medical attention.

How is sciatica treated?

Sciatic nerve pain often responds well to simple home remedies, such as ice pack applications, stretches and over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). If further relief is needed, a physician may prescribe a muscle relaxant to ease painful spasms or a narcotic pain reliever to control very severe pain.

Physical activity is usually a key component of sciatica management. Most physicians advise their patients to immediately begin taking short walks and progress to a formal physical therapy program as soon as their comfort allows. Rehabilitation typically includes exercises to improve posture, enhance flexibility and strengthen the lower back and leg muscles. Therapeutic massage, chiropractic manipulation and ultrasound therapy may be beneficial as well.

If sciatica persists after several months of conservative therapy, a physician may recommend an epidural steroid injection or nerve block. In general, surgery is reserved as a last resort treatment for debilitating pain that is limiting mobility or diminishing quality of life.

At Advanced Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine of Houston, TX, we take a conservative approach to sciatica treatment whenever possible. However, our experienced surgeons can perform both traditional and minimally invasive procedures to address sciatica when necessary.

If you’d like more information about the sciatica treatment options available at Advanced Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine in Houston, Texas, contact us today.