The spine is a very unique and important part of the human body. It is essential to the nervous system because it protects the spinal cord, which connects nerves to the brain. It is also an essential piece of the skeleton because of its stabilizing and supporting function for the rest of the body’s bones. Lastly, it is the weight bearing mechanism for the head and the reason the torso can bend. It is no wonder then that when the spine is not functioning properly, the entire body is affected.
In the lower portion of the spine, the five lumbar vertebrae sit above the sacrum, which is made up of another five vertebrae that are actually fused together. The coccyx is usually referred to as the tailbone and it sits just below the sacrum. It is in this general area of the lower back that patients experiencing Sciatica usually feel pain. However, Sciatica can manifest itself in a variety of sensations and symptoms, so in order to properly identify it, it is important to be aware of a few of the common complaints related to this condition.
Do I Have Sciatica?
Before we can answer this question, let’s first identify what it is that we’re talking about. Sciatica is a term used to describe the symptoms that occur when irritation is caused to the nerves in the lower portion of the spine. In fact, Sciatica is not a condition in and of itself. Rather, it is actually a descriptive reference for symptoms that are the result of another medical issue. We’ll talk more about that after we identify some of the major indicators (symptoms):
- Are you experiencing a numb, tingling “pins and needles” sensation that extends from your lower back down towards your buttocks and possibly even into your legs?
- Would you describe your pain as a “burning” feeling radiating down your leg?
- Have you noticed significant changes in your reflex abilities or in the general strength of your lower back and legs?
- Are your symptoms usually made worse when you attempt to lift, twist or bend?
- Does coughing, sneezing or other jarring movements produce sudden pain?
- Do you sometimes have what feels like severe leg cramps, accompanied by sharp, shooting pains?
- Are you experiencing these symptoms on just one side of your body?
If you answered yes to all or most of these questions, then you are probably suffering from what is commonly referred to as “Sciatica.”
What’s the Cause of My Pain?
When you get right down to the root of the problem, sciatica is a nerve issue, but it’s usually caused by the rupture or herniation of a disc. Irritation to nerves traveling from the lower back into the legs can result from basic aging and the body’s natural wear and tear over time. However, if sudden pressure is placed on the lumbar vertebrae, sciatica can develop quickly as well. This happens when a disc herniates and a nerve is compressed.
*Note: Sciatica can also be caused by Spinal Laminectomy, the narrowing of the spinal canal, but this is much less frequent.
So I have Sciatica...What’s Next?
1. Call Rothman Institute and arrange to have a physical exam and be seen by one of the nation’s top spinal physicians!
When you come for your exam, you can expect the doctor to ask you whether you are experiencing numbness or having difficulty bending the knees or feet. The physician may also check your reflexes and if need be, an X-ray or MRI may be done to identify the exact location of the source of your pain.
2. Commit to the recommended “conservative” treatment options.
Your doctor may ask you to rest, use ice, take ibuprofen, avoid lifting, try a new sleeping position, or even do physical therapy. In some cases, acupuncture may be recommended. Commit to giving your body the rest that it needs to heal.
3. Get better and follow up!
Once you have taken 4-6 weeks to do the recommended non-invasive treatment, chances are that your condition will have greatly improved and the symptoms of sciatica will have diminished or disappeared. For most patients suffering from a herniated disc, rest will provide the relief they need. However, should you still be experiencing pain after committing to the treatment plan, your case may require more extensive care or even surgery.
Remember that 80% of adults will experience some form of back pain at some point during their life. So be prepared and when pain strikes, know your options. Call Rothman Institute - home to locally-based, world-renowned orthopedic specialists!