Sciatica is a group of symptoms involving the lower back and legs that result from problems with pinched nerves in the low back. Running from the lower back to the foot, the sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the human body. Irritation of the sciatic nerve or nearby nerve roots can cause shooting low back pain as well as severe pain in the leg, buttock, or foot. The pain travels along the sciatic nerve and is typically present on only one side of the body. The chronic pain associated nerve irritation is often accompanied by numbness and tingling in the affected areas.
One of the major causes of sciatica is disc herniation in the lower back area. This disc herniation occurs when the soft core of the spinal disc leaks out and irritates the surrounding nerves. Disc degeneration and narrowing of the spinal canal are natural effects of aging, and these processes can put pressure on the lumbar nerves. Similar problems often occur after a spinal fracture or other injury that causes bulging and leaking of the discs.
For some patients, the low back pain associated with sciatica is severe enough to require surgery. In most cases, however, nonsurgical techniques are enough to eliminate or drastically reduce low back pain. Store-bought heat packs, anti-inflammatory drugs, and pain medications are often highly effective during the initial phase of the condition. Massage therapy is effective for acute pain management, although it is less suitable when dealing with chronic pain. Your pain management physician, Dr. Geula, may recommend a lumbar epidural injection or spinal cord stimulator. If the nerve compression is a result of disc herniation, percutaneous discectomy may also be recommended.