Understanding Sciatica: Causes and Treatments

Guide to Sciatica

Sciatica refers to a type of lower back pain that radiates from the lower back to behind the thighs down to the knee. The pain originates from an irritation of the sciatic nerve, the largest nerve in the human body. It’s a fairly isolated condition, typically affecting only one side of the lower body. The pain, however, can be intense, often making it difficult to stand or walk.

Causes of Sciatica

Sciatica is caused by an irritation of the roots of nerves within the lower spine area. The condition may also be caused by a narrowing of the spinal canal in the lower back (lumbar spinal stenosis) or degenerative disc disease, where the discs that act as cushions between the individual bones of the spine deteriorate. A condition where a vertebra slips forward over another one (spondylolisthesis) can also cause sciatica. Additional contributing factors may include:

  • Pregnancy
  • Lack of regular exercise
  • Wearing high heels
  • Being overweight

Treatments for Sciatica

About 10-15 percent of affected patients with sciatica will require some type of surgical procedure such as a laminectomy surgery to achieve pain relief. However, most patients with the condition respond to medications, including over-the-counter pain relievers. Some patients require prescription-strength pain relievers or muscle relaxants. Patients with sciatica may also respond well to physical therapy and specific exercises. Other treatment recommendations include:

  • Cortisone injections (directly into the affected area)
  • Cold packs or cold massages
  • Alternating heat applications (heating pad) with cold applications
  • Lying on a firm surface (with a pillow under the knees)
  • Refraining from strenuous lifting or activities (until the pain goes away)

Sciatica can affect people differently. Some individuals may experience occasional pain and discomfort that goes away and returns infrequently and others may experience severe and sometimes debilitating pain. With proper treatment, the sciatica symptoms can either be eliminated or reduced.

If you have been diagnosed with sciatica and are interested in learning more about your treatment options, look no further than the trusted Beverly Hills spine surgeons at The Spine Institute Center for Spinal Restoration.  Along with exploring your conservative options, our spinal specialists recommend other treatments, including surgery, which may be able to provide you with the relief you desire. For more information, please reach out to us today at (310) 828-7757.