If you have pain, weakness, burning, numbness or tingling in your lower back that extends into your leg, you may be among the 5-10 percent of people whose lower back pain is attributed to a condition called sciatica.
Sciatica develops when the spinal column presses on or pinches the roots of the sciatic nerve in the lumbar (lower) spine. The sciatic nerve, the largest in the body, runs from the lower portion of the spinal cord and extends through the buttock area with nerve endings that continue down into the lower leg.
A herniated disk in the spinal column is often the cause of sciatic nerve pain. Bone spurs on the vertebrae in your lower back, tumors, or nerves that have become diseased because of another medical condition also can lead to sciatica.
Sciatica symptoms often present as sudden, sharp pains that begin in the lower back and run down the back, outside or front portions of the leg. In some cases, the pain can extend past the knee and into the calf or even the foot. Sciatica pain usually affects only one side of the body.
As with any medical condition, the symptoms and side effects of sciatica can vary greatly from person to person. If you’re experiencing lower back pain, talk to an HonorHealth neurologist to see if sciatica may be the cause.
Who is affected by sciatica?
While sciatica can affect anyone, there are certain occupations, activities and health conditions that may increase your likelihood of developing this often painful nerve condition.
Some of the most common risk factors for sciatica include:
- Advanced age since the spine changes with age and issues like herniated disks and bone spurs often present later in life
- Diabetes, which can lead to nerve damage as a result of the body’s inability to properly use and regulate blood sugar
- Obesity since the added weight you carry increases stress and strain on the spine
- Occupations that require twisting the body, extensive driving and/or heavy lifting
- Sedentary lifestyle, including prolonged sitting
Your HonorHealth specialist will perform a physical exam to evaluate strength and reflexes. If your doctor believes that nerve pain may be the source of your discomfort, then you may undergo additional diagnostic medical imaging tests such as:
- CT scan
- Spine X-ray
- Electromyography (EMG)
When rest and relaxation don’t provide sciatic pain relief, your doctor may choose from a variety of other treatment options such as:
- Anti-inflammatory medication
- Injections (steroid or epidural injections)
- Medications, such as anti-inflammatories and/or muscle relaxers
- Physical therapy
You may need lumbar epidural steroid injection or surgery if your symptoms persist or get worse.