Almost everyone encounters back pain at some point in their lives, but for an unfortunate few, that pain is intense and persistent. There are many types of chronic back pain, but one that is fairly common is sciatica, a condition caused by a pinched sciatic nerve. Sciatic nerve pain is a result of a herniated spinal disc, one of the cushiony pads between spinal vertebrae.
Normally, a spinal disc is flat and positioned between the bony vertebrae, but in some people, the lumbar disc is mis-positioned or squeezed into a bulging shape. This protruding tissue may apply pressure on the sciatic nerve, the longest nerve in your body that extends from the lower back to your feet.
A bulging disc can produce sciatic nerve pain that starts in the lumbar region and radiates out to the sides and legs. Symptoms of sciatica may include numbness, tingling, leg or foot weakness, and mild to severe pain. Sciatica is most common among people 30 to 50 years of age who are obese or pregnant. Diabetes, heavy lifting or constant sitting are also risk factors for this condition.
The majority of patients with sciatic nerve pain experience it for only short periods—a few weeks. It can often be managed with over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Home remedies like hot or cold packs as well as back stretches are also helpful in treating this condition. Many people respond to sciatica by resorting to bed rest, but it is more effective to stay active to reduce the inflammation.
If your sciatic nerve pain doesn’t respond to these treatments, you should discuss the possibility of other medications including anti-inflammatories or muscle relaxants. Your physician may also recommend physical therapy, acupuncture or chiropractic medicine. In a few, select cases, it may be necessary to use opioid pain killers for a short period of time. If your sciatica is accompanied by symptoms like severe pain, muscle weakness or loss of bladder or bowel control, see your physician immediately, as these could indicate a more serious condition that could lead to paralysis.
If your nerve pain continues for longer than three months, then your doctor may recommend surgical options. There are several procedures available to sciatica patients. The first is a discectomy which removes part of or the entire herniated disc. A version of this procedure called a microdiscectomy is also available; a microdiscectomy achieves the same results but is only minimally invasive, allowing for a shorter recovery period. Almost 90 percent of patients find relief following a microdiscectomy.
Another surgical option is a laminectomy which involves the removal of part of the bony plate lining the spinal canal. Removal of this bone provides more space for nerves as well as discs and should relieve pressure on the sciatic nerve.
Your doctor will discuss which procedure is likely to produce a better outcome based on the nature of your specific condition. You should carefully consider the pros and cons of surgery; a non-surgical treatment may be as effective for you.
Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care
M.D. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees.