Is There a Cure for Sciatica?
If you have ever experienced pain in your lower back that seems to radiate through your buttocks, and even down your legs, then you could be one of the millions of Americans that suffer from sciatica.
What is sciatica and what causes it?
Sciatica is an extremely common condition that occurs when the sciatic nerve, which runs from your hips to your feet, becomes irritated or compressed. This can happen for a number of reasons.
In many cases, an episode of sciatica is triggered by a herniated disc in the lower part of your spine. When this happens, the disc can put pressure on the surrounding nerves, including the sciatic nerve. Herniated discs can occur as a result of injury to the lower back, or if the patient has degenerative disc disease, a condition that causes the discs to break down often earlier than they would through regular wear and tear.
Other common causes of sciatica include:
- Lumbar spinal stenosis. This refers to narrowing of the spinal canal in the lower back.
- Spondylolisthesis. This is a condition in which one vertebra slips forward over another one.
- Muscle spasms in the back or buttocks.
- Pregnancy, which puts additional stress on the spine.
Some people may also experience episodes of sciatica after wearing high heels or sleeping on a mattress that is too soft.
Symptoms of sciatica
There are a range of symptoms that could indicate that you are suffering from sciatica. These may include:
- Pain in the lower back or hip
- Pain in the buttock or top of the leg that is worse when sitting down
- Burning or tingling sensation running down the leg
- Numbness in the leg or foot
- Weakness in the leg or foot
- A shooting pain that emanates down through the buttocks and that may make it hard to stand up
- A constant pain in one buttock
Is there a cure for sciatica?
Although there is no permanent cure for sciatica, there are a variety of therapies that can help. These tend to focus on relieving pressure and inflammation around the sciatic nerve, which will help to alleviate your symptoms. In most cases, these can be used if and when an episode of sciatica occurs.
Medications are likely to be the first thing that your doctor suggests you try. Anti-inflammatory drugs such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories and oral steroids can help to relieve pressure on the sciatic nerve. These must be taken as directed by your physician.
If medications do not give you sufficient relief, the next step would be to consider epidural steroid injections. These deliver a much stronger anti-inflammatory effect than oral medications. Injections are delivered at the origin of the inflamed sciatic nerve roots. However, steroid injections must be used sparingly, and your doctor will give you a scheduled treatment plan. This will be tailored to your specific needs.
Physical therapy has also been shown to be beneficial in treating a wide range of back complaints, including sciatica. Your doctor should be able to recommend an experienced physical therapist to you.
If you have tried all of the aforementioned treatments, and your doctor believes that there is no other way of relieving your pain, then you may be referred for surgery to reduce pressure on the sciatic nerve. This is only suitable for patients whose sciatica is caused by a herniated disc as it involves removing all or part of the disc that is pushing on the sciatic nerve.
The long-term effect of sciatica
Although sciatica may feel extremely painful and be debilitating, it rarely causes the patient any permanent damage. Most sufferers experience only short episodes of sciatica that last a few days to a week or so, and the symptoms then abate. This process may be made faster when using some of the therapies listed above. If you have any concerns about the longevity of your sciatica symptoms, you should speak to your doctor.