Chances are most people have heard the term sciatica even if they themselves have never experienced it. It is estimated that almost 50-percent of the adult population in the United States has experienced sciatica pain in their lives. The term sciatica is incorrectly used to identify a diagnosis, when in fact, it is simply a descriptor of symptoms. The sciatica is a nerve approximately the diameter of a thumb, making it the largest nerve in the human body, and also the longest. The sciatica begins in the lumbar region near the base of the spinal cord, it passes through the spine’s vertebrae, hip area, and buttock, eventually down each leg and ending at the foot.
Commonly reported symptoms of sciatica pain include numbness, tingling, and weakness, primarily felt in the leg. Some individuals also have back problems, but sciatica pain can present suddenly, sometimes triggered but coughing, sneezing, or as a result of a fall or near-fall. Pain is usually isolated to one leg and is described as stabbing or sharp. The pain may also worsen when sitting or may walking and standing up difficult.
By far, the most prevalent cause for sciatica pain is a herniated disc, accounting for nearly 80-percent of the confirmed cases. Other causes include degenerative disc disease, spondylolisthesis, and stenosis of the spine. It instances of a herniated disc an MRI scan will confirm the diagnosis. Often the symptoms are indicative of the cause as well. For instance, if the symptoms are brought on by bending forward, the cause is likely a herniated disc.
Common treatment for sciatica pain includes both surgical and nonsurgical approaches. The goal is to relieve the pain and any accompanying neurological effects. Nonsurgical methods include the application of hot or cold packs, or pain medications both prescribed and store bought. In particular, NSAIDs like ibuprofen, are often effective at reducing inflammation which often causes some of the pain. Epidural injection of steroids directly into affected area has proved to be very effective in patients with severe or debilitating pain. The downside is that the relief is temporary and doesn’t work for all patients, however, it can permit the patient to participate in exercise therapy.
Alternative treatments such as stem cell injections, although very new and perhaps controversial, may be used in placed of or in conjunction with traditional treatment methods. Other alternative methods include acupuncture, chiropractic visits, and massage therapy.