FAQ’s on Sciatica & Radiculopathy
What is sciatica and radiculopathy?
Lumbar radiculopathy (the proper term for what is known most commonly as sciatica), is a condition of acute, shooting pain that occurs from the pelvic region and extends downward throughout the back of the legs. The sciatic nerve, which is the main nerve extending down through the leg, is also the largest nerve in the human body.
Who gets sciatica/ lumbar radiculopathy and how do they get it?
Anyone can suffer from sciatica/ lumbar radiculopathy. However, it occurs more frequently in older persons with a history of spine related injury or hereditary degeneration caused by disease.
The most common cause of sciatica/ lumbar radiculopathy is due to a prolapsed (bulging or herniated) intervertebral disc causing pressure on the sciatic nerve.
Cornell studies show this prolapse can be caused by injury, age related degeneration, tumor, blood clot, abscess, by prolonged periods of sitting (such as an office worker or truck driver), and other times the cause is not identified.
What are the symptoms of sciatica/ lumbar radiculopathy?
Acute, shooting pain from the lower back and extending down through the buttock and back of one thigh is the most commonly occurring symptom of sciatica/ lumbar radiculopathy. This radiating pain can extend all the way down the leg to the foot. In more severe cases of sciatica/ lumbar radiculopathy the patient may experience numbness and weakness in the affected leg. Often these symptoms are misdiagnosed as having another cause due to their similarity to symptoms of other conditions.
How is sciatica/ lumbar radiculopathy diagnosed?
You may start your diagnosis with an appointment with your physician. They will review your medical history and give you a complete physical to determine further procedures. These procedures may include x-rays to get an image of the lumbar region of your spine to determine whether there are maligned vertebrae, which could be the cause of your sciatica/ lumbar radiculopathy.
Your physician may also have you undergo an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), which provides a more detailed image of the muscles, ligaments, and intervertebral discs in order to better determine if anything is abnormal.
What treatments are available for sciatica/ lumbar radiculopathy?
Treatment for sciatica/ lumbar radiculopathy most likely will vary from patient to patient. Each case will be evaluated individually and the proper treatment(s) will be determined. Treatment will be determined based on your age, medical history, and your overall health as well as the extent of the condition that is causing your sciatica/ lumbar radiculopathy. Other factors involved will be your tolerance for certain treatments and medications.
Sciatica can heal on its own over time with rest, but to help alleviate the pain and inflammation OTC (over the counter) NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) can be used. Medications like ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil, Nuprin, Medipren). Hot and cold compresses can lessen swelling and relieve the pressure on the nerve that is the cause of the pain and discomfort.
Physical therapy under a physician’s supervision can often be used to correct the underlying physical cause of the condition. Often strengthening the muscles surrounding the affected area will help your body to naturally support the skeletal structure and so ease pressure on the nerve by misplaced vertebra.
Can surgery help with sciatica?
For more serious conditions like those caused by a ruptured or herniated disc, surgical intervention may be necessary to relieve the pressure on the nerve that is causing the pain. After surgery your physician may prescribe opioid analgesics like Vicodin or Percocet to temporarily relieve the pain from the surgical procedure. You will also likely be prescribed physical therapy to strengthen the muscles after surgery.
Maintaining an active, healthy lifestyle is paramount to your body’s physical health and will reduce the likeliness of this condition occurring. However, accidental injury or age related degeneration are reasons beyond your control that can cause the intervertebral discs to become injured and cause sciatica/ lumbar radiculopathy.