October 27, 2021
“Sciatica” (or sciatic pain) is a term frequently used to describe radiating leg pain, or pain that radiates from the back/buttocks into the legs. Sciatica may occur suddenly, without warning, in one or both legs.
You may have experienced sciatica yourself or know someone who has dealt with the pain, weakness, numbness, and leg tingling it can cause. Here is what you need to know to help get to the root of the problem and move on with your life as pain-free as possible.
What Causes Sciatica?
Sciatica is actually a symptom of an underlying medical problem; not a medical condition itself. It is often caused by something irritating nerves. Most commonly, the nerves inside or near the spine are the source of the pain (lumbar radiculopathy), but not always. These are some of the medical problems that can cause sciatica:
- Herniated or degenerated lumbar discs
- Lumbar spinal stenosis or neuroforaminal stenosis
- History of lumbar surgery
- Facet joint synovial cysts or advanced arthritis
- Muscle spasm and/or inflammation of the lumbar and/or pelvic muscles
- Sacroiliac joint dysfunction
- Piriformis syndrome
- In rare cases, tumors, blood clots, or other conditions in the lower spine
Often a medical examination, radiology imaging, and your pain story help experienced medical providers determine the source of this type of pain. Diagnosing the underlying cause of sciatica is essential in developing an effective treatment plan and managing your pain most effectively.
If you are experiencing the symptoms of sciatica pain, talk to your primary care provider first. Your provider will conduct a physical examination and may, in some cases, order imaging or other tests.
Quite often, new cases of sciatic pain can resolve on their own within a few days, weeks, or possibly months. If you are having new sciatic pain, your primary care provider may initially recommend the following steps to calm your symptoms and reduce inflammation:
- Take over-the-counter pain relievers such NSAIDS (Ibuprofen or Naproxen) and/or Tylenol (Acetaminophen)
- Apply heat or ice to the painful area
- Refer you for physical therapy to learn different methods to alleviate the pain and strengthen your muscles
Advanced Measures to Treat Sciatica
In some cases, the pain can become more severe or chronic (lasting longer than three months). Depending on the condition causing your sciatica, your primary care provider may suggest seeing a pain management specialist to aid in diagnosing the underlying medical problem and provide therapeutic interventions or alternative therapies to treat your pain. In rarer and extremely severe cases, seeing a spine surgeon for surgery may be an appropriate option.
The Good News About Sciatica
Sciatica often gets better on its own with minimal treatment. But know that if it returns or becomes severe there are many treatment options to consider. Our experienced pain management team can help diagnose the underlying medical condition, and treat your pain. We are here to help.