The sciatic nerve originates at the lower back and branches through the hips to the buttocks, then down each leg. When the sciatic nerve is irritated, pain radiates down the length of the sciatic nerve. This condition is called sciatica. In most cases, it occurs only on one side of the body.
What causes sciatica?
Sciatica usually is the result of a herniated disc or bone spur on one of your vertebrae – a small protrusion which develops on the edge of spine bone – which painfully squeezes the sciatic nerve. This squeezing can cause pain, inflammation and, on occasion, numbness on the side affected by the sciatica.
Sciatic pain can be severe but in the majority of instances it can be remedied in less than a month with a few treatments. When severe sciatic pain persists after a treatment program lasting six weeks or more, patients may require surgery to remedy the sciatic nerve’s compression.
Should I see a pain management doctor in Orange County, Anaheim, Irvine or Santa Ana if I have sciatica?
Mild cases of sciatica will usually go away with a bit of patience and time. But if you experience severe sudden pain in your leg or lower back, or numbness or weakness in your leg muscles, get immediate medical care. I
f you are in a traffic accident or experience some other kind of violent injury and you experience subsequent pain, call an Orange County chiropractor or pain doctor right away. The same applies if, during an episode of sciatica, you suddenly have a problem controlling your bladder or bowel; you need to seek immediate medical assistance if this happens. This is actually an emergency situation.
What are the common symptoms of sciatica?
It’s easy to recognize sciatica, with its distinctive pain, radiating from the lumbar (lower) region of your spine to one of your buttocks, then down your leg. While the discomfort may be apparent at any one point along the length of your sciatic nerve, it most often runs the whole way from the lower back to the buttocks, to the back of the thigh and down to the calf.
Its degree of severity can vary quite a bit, from mild aching to a sharper, burning feeling or excruciating pain. It might feel like a jolt of electricity or happen suddenly when you sneeze or cough. Sitting for a long period of time may aggravate your symptoms.
What risk factors increase the odds of experiencing sciatica?
Several factors may contribute to the likelihood of your experiencing sciatica. With the passage of time, changes to your spine may take place including bone spurs or herniated discs, both of which are common causes of sciatica.
The excess body weight of obesity stresses your spine and may produce changes that can trigger sciatica. Working in a job that requires twisting your spine, carrying heavy weights, or driving a vehicle for long stretches of time may promote sciatica.
If you have a sedentary lifestyle and sit for long periods of time, you may be more prone to sciatica. Diabetes, with its adverse impact on your blood-sugar levels, compounds the risk of nerve damage and sciatica.
What complications are associated with sciatica?
While it’s unusual, there are some complications from sciatica that can produce permanent damage to your nerves. Contact your doctor immediately if you lose feeling or feel weakness in the affected limb, or lose bladder or bowel function.
How is sciatica diagnosed?
In order to diagnose sciatica accurately, your doctor will conduct a physical examination to check the strength of your muscles and your reflexes. For extremely severe pain or when pain fails to diminish within a few weeks’ time, your OC pain doctor may order imaging tests.
These may include x-rays to reveal a bone spur that could exert pressure on your sciatic nerve, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI close) to provide cross-sectional views of your back; and computerized tomography (CT) scans to generate images of your spine.
How is sciatica treated?
First, your Orange County chiropractor or pain management doctor will recommend important self-care treatments so that you can manage your pain. These may include the use of cold or hot packs applied to the affected area, stretching exercises to help relieve the compression on your sciatic nerve, and the use of over-the-counter medicines.
If these measures fail to reduce your pain, your OC pain clinic doctor may prescribe stronger medications including: anti- inflammatory drugs, narcotics, muscle relaxants, anti-seizure medications, or antidepressants. Your doctor may suggest you work with a physical therapist to guide you through a rehabilitation program that will prevent recurrent episodes of sciatica.
In some instances, injecting corticosteroid medications into the affected area can inhibit inflammation and reduce your pain significantly. It may take a series of three injections, or potentially one may be enough. This series may be repeated every few months.
The purpose of the injections and other treatments is not to “cure” the condition. Rather, the objective of the treatment is to keep the pain under control while the body disentegrates the piece of disc that has herniated.
If you or a loved one is suffering from sciatica, pain management doctors in Orange County, Anaheim, Irvine, Santa Ana, Long Beach and surrounding areas can offer nonoperative relief.