Sciatica is the general term for pain, tingling sensations, and similar symptoms that extend along the pathway of the sciatic nerve, which starts in the lower back and moves downward. The discomfort related to this condition can have a serious impact on quality of life, but it’s also a spine-related problem that’s often treatable with conservative care options, two of which are epidural steroid injections (ESIs) and exercise. If they’re looking to avoid a surgical procedure such as a total disc replacement, Santa Monica patients may have to decide between these two approaches, and here’s what they need to know.
An epidural steroid injection (ESI) is given directly in the affected area, which is the lower back if the sciatic nerve is affected. It’s inserted into a part of the spine called the epidural space, which is located close to sensitive nerve roots. The goal with an ESI is to ease inflammation and give the affected part of the sciatic nerve time to heal. The steroid medication included in the injection also reduces the body’s production of inflammatory chemicals. Doing so makes nerve fibers less receptive to pain. When effective, epidural steroid injections may contribute to:
• Less noticeable sciatica symptoms
• Better lower back/leg mobility and function
• Reduced reliance on medication that could have potentially serious side effects
The purpose of exercise for sciatic pain is to strengthen the soft tissues that support the lower back to take pressure off irritated nerves. A customized exercise/physical therapy plan approved by a Santa Monica spine surgeon may also include more specific goals for a sciatica patient, some of which may include:
• Easing leg-related discomfort
• Stimulating nervous system function in a way that relieves sciatic nerve irritation
• Easing sciatic nerve stress by healing a herniated disc
• Improving posture and the ability to move in various directions (e.g., bending, leaning forward) without difficulty
• Strengthening spine-supporting core muscles
Exercise also has related benefits that could reduce sciatica pain. For instance, regular physical activity can help you lose weight and get a better night’s sleep, which are two things that are good for your healing lower back area. Exercise also has the potential to prevent future sciatica pain as your spine-supporting muscles become stronger, and exercise gets more beneficial nutrients flowing to your back and its various parts. Exercise may even remove toxins from soft tissue fibers in a way that increases flexibility and eases stiffness.
As for which of these two treatment options is right for you, it depends on factors such as the nature of your sciatica symptoms and how well you respond. ESIs may not work for all types of sciatica discomfort, or you may end up needing to have repeated injections periodically if your pain returns when the effects wear off. Some types of exercise may not be effective, but there’s more flexibility with the forms of exercise you can try. A physical therapist can also work with you to find a combination of therapeutic techniques that may provide relief.
If you’re searching for the right treatment for your sciatica, call on the spinal health specialists at The Spine Institute. Our pioneering physicians lead the industry in the use of innovative methods and cutting-edge technology to alleviate neck and back pain. To schedule a consultation, call one of our friendly representatives today at 310-828-7757.