Sciatica describes symptoms of leg pain and possible tingling, numbness, or weakness that travels from the lower back down the sciatic nerve in the back of the leg, often as a result of a pinched nerve from a herniated disc or other conditions like degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis or spondylolisthesis.
Sciatica is mostly commonly caused by a herniated disc, which can be a result of general wear and tear due to aging, or any sudden pressure on the disks that cushion the bones (vertebrae) of the lower spine. It is more common between the ages of 30 and 50 years old.
Sciatica may feel like a bad leg cramp, with pain that is sharp (“knife-like”), or electrical. The cramp can last for weeks before it goes away. You may have pain, especially when you move, sneeze, or cough. You may also have weakness, “pins and needles” numbness, or a burning or tingling sensation down your leg.
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, approximately 80 to 90 percent of patients with sciatica get better over time without surgery, typically within several weeks. Nonsurgical treatment is aimed at helping you manage your pain without long-term use of medications:
- Heat or ice
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, aspirin or muscle relaxants.
- Physical therapy or at-home exercises and stretching
- Cortisone injections
- Epidural steroid injections
Do not remain in bed, as too much rest may cause other parts of the body to feel discomfort.
Find positions that are comfortable, but be as active as possible. Motion helps to reduce inflammation.
You might need surgery if you still have disabling leg pain after 3 months of nonsurgical treatment. During surgery, which is called a laminotomy with discectomy, the herniated disc may be removed to stop it from pressing on your nerve. The surgery is performed under local, spinal or general anesthesia and is very successful at relieving pain, particularly if most of the pain is in your leg.
Motion, exercise and stretching are important to strengthen your back. It is important to walk and move while limiting too much bending or twisting. Most times, patients are able to resume normal lifestyle activities fairly quickly.
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