What is Sciatica and How to Relieve Sciatica Pain?

What is Sciatica and How to Relieve Sciatica Pain?

Sciatica is a common cause of disability and long-term pain. The sciatic nerve supplies the buttock and lower leg (on each side of the body). When it is inflamed or irritated, it can produce substantial pain. According to a recent study, the prevalence rate is around 5% for the general population. Numerous back conditions can lead to sciatica, such as a herniated disc, degenerative disc disease, and other spinal conditions.

how to relieve sciatica painWhat is Sciatica?

Sciatica describes a collection of symptoms that occur from sciatic nerve compression. The sciatic nerve runs from the base of the spine down through both legs. When this nerve is compressed, it causes pain that often moves through the buttocks, legs, and feet. Sciatica is a form of nerve dysfunction or peripheral neuropathy. It occurs from pressure on the sciatic nerve.

Sciatic most often arises because of pressure from a herniated disc, protruding disc, or bone spur. Damage to a disc or excess bone growth is positioned along the spinal column so that it puts pressure on the nerve root. Sciatica could arise in cases of nerve entrapment, which entails pressure as the nerve passes through an opening between two vertebrae.

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Sciatica

Sciatica is diagnosed mainly based on symptoms. The known symptoms are numbness, burning, tingling, and pain in the back of the legs, buttocks, and/or soles of the feet. Sciatica may also cause leg weakness. The pain management specialist will inquire about your many symptoms when assessing sciatica. In addition, the doctor will take a medical history, inquire about surgeries, and perform a comprehensive examination.

Because sciatica can be caused by a spine disorder, the doctor will likely order some diagnostic tests. These include radiographs (x-rays), computed tomography (CT scan), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI scan). The doctor will evaluate which treatments have worked in the past, and which have failed, before devising your treatment.

Treating Sciatica

If you suffer from sciatic nerve pain, or sciatica, the pain management specialist will try many treatments. Sometimes, a combination of therapies works best. Options include:

  • Physical therapy – The therapist works with you to learn exercises to strengthen the back, improve flexibility, and alleviate pain. Some therapies used by physical therapy include massage, ultrasound, and electrical stimulation.
  • Medications – Medications used to alleviate pain include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants, tricyclic antidepressants, and anticonvulsants. These agents all have benefits for nerve-related pain.
  • Epidural steroid injection – This involves injecting a corticosteroid medication into the epidural space around the spinal cord. The nerve root responds to the medication, which is known to lessen inflammation and pain. Sometimes, an anesthetic is added for pain relief. The epidural steroid injections are given in a series of 3-4, spaced out several weeks apart. According to many clinical studies, ESI has an efficacy rate of 90%.
  • Transcutaneous electrical stimulation (TENS) – This involves use of mild pleasant electrical current, which interferes with pain signal transmission. Electrodes are placed along the spine, and a battery-powered unit delivers the electrical current through wires that attach to the electrodes.
Abdi S, Datta S, Trescot AM, et al. (2007). Epidural steroids in the management of chronic spinal pain: a systematic review. Pain Physician, 10(1):185-212.
Konstantinou K & Dunn KM (2008). Sciatica: review of epidemiological studies and prevalence estimates. Spine, 33(22) 2464-2472.
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