Radiculopathy / Sciatica

Sciatica, also known as radiculopathy, is a medical condition that causes irritation or compression of nerve roots in the lumbar spine. Because the sciatic nerve traverses the lower back and hips and extends behind the thigh and below the knee, legs, and feet, damage to the lumbar region causes symptoms throughout these regions. 

In this page, we will explain in more detail what sciatica is and how to manage the pain that comes with it.

Symptoms

Generally, sciatica shows itself as a pain in the lower extremities. If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, it may be due to issues with your sciatica nerve:

  • Pain - this can be experienced in the lower back and lower extremities and may occur on only one side of the body.
  • Numbness - you may experience a loss of feeling of weakness.
  • Tingling - a sensation that can feel like pins and needles in your skin.
  • Burning sensation - typically occurs in the lower back and can radiate up or down the leg to the upper buttock.

The symptoms of sciatica can make walking and regular day to day activities difficult. 

Causes of Sciatica

There are several common causes of sciatica, including:

  • Herniated discs: One of the most common sources of sciatica is a herniated disk. When the fibrous outer wall of a vertebral disc ruptures, the soft nucleus inside the ruptured outer wall swells outward, resulting in what we call a herniated disc. This swelling generates a painful pressure that harmfully presses on the nerve roots.
  • Degenerative disc disease: Another recurrent source of nerve root injury is degenerative disc disease. This is brought about when a spinal disc weakens or deteriorates, resulting in the vertebral bones on top and under the disc to move out of their original places. This causes the top and bottom vertebral bones to touch, “pinching” the neighboring nerve roots.
  • Spinal stenosis: As the bones and joints of the spinal column degenerate or wear out, bony spurs form around the degenerated bones and push inside the spinal canal and foramen space. This movement also creates a painful pressure on the spinal cord and nerve roots.
  • Pregnancy: During pregnancy, many women experience a herniated disc, which in turn causes sciatica. Back pain and similar symptoms can also be experienced due to muscle strain and unstable joints that occur because of the sudden extra weight expectant mothers carry.
  • Spondylolisthesis: This condition occurs when one spinal vertebra slips. This can be a genetic condition or occur after an injury or illness. The displacement or damage to the vertebra may then create sciatica.

Diagnosis/Assessment

If seek medical assistance in our office for your painful symptoms, there are diagnostic and assessment procedures that you can expect. First, we will begin with an in-depth conversation about your symptoms and limitations. We need to know how you experience your pain, where and how frequently it comes, as well as your current and past medical history. This gives us the basic information that we need to move forward.

Our next step will be a physical exam. We will have you perform several simple, passive and active exercises so that we can assess any weakness and pain points. 

To help us accurately diagnose the root cause of your pain, we also have other diagnostic tools that we will utilize: 

MRI - An MRI, or Magnetic Resonance Imaging, uses radio waves and a magnetic field to create a picture of the inside of your body. An MRI can be used to see the structure of your back and any possible spinal fractures.

Xray or CT Scan - An X-ray uses radiation to create a picture of your bodies internal structures, while a CT scan is a combination of X-ray images. Both tests allow your physician to better examine your spine and soft tissue and check for any possible damage.

Risk Factors

There are several factors that can place you at a higher risk for developing sciatica: 

  • Genetics - While sciatica is not hereditary, there are some genetic spinal disorders that can lead to sciatica. 
  • Age - As we age, our bones and discs slowly deteriorate. This deterioration may lead to bone spurs, degenerative disc disorders, and/or sciatica. 
  • Weight - The more weight your body carries, the harder it is for your back to stay in the correct posture. Excess weight in the abdomen, in particular, can create additional pressure on the spine. 
  • Occupation - a sedentary job, as well as a position that requires repetitive motions, can both negatively impact your spine and can certainly make you more likely to develop sciatica. 
  • Diabetes - People with diabetes are at a higher risk for nerve damage.

Complications

While sciatica can be challenging all on its own, there are also possible complications if you don’t treat it quickly. Sciatica can lead to permanent nerve damage. You may also experience more intense and long term pain as well as herniated discs. Further complications could include loss of feeling in your spine and lower extremities.  

Prevention

There are many steps you can take to protect your spine and prevent sciatica. 

Stop smoking - Smoking can actually contribute to disc degeneration, which can lead to sciatica and a host of other problems. 

Eat healthier - Giving your body the nutrients it needs and potentially losing weight in the process will take unnecessary strain off of your spine.

Exercise - Exercising will help improve the strength and longevity of your stomach and spine muscles, protecting you from injury and improving your overall health.

Practice proper posture and bending techniques - Repeatedly straining and/or injuring your back can lead to premature degeneration. By using the correct posture and technique you can protect your spine.

Treatment and Management 

Bed rest helps relieve the pain and discomfort. However, rest itself is not a treatment. The treatment options for sciatica depend on the cause. But the common treatments include physical therapy, stretching exercises and lower back conditioning. Most experts recommend pairing these with medications such as antidepressants, anti-inflammatory, muscle relaxants and pain relievers. In chronic forms of sciatica, transcutaneous nerve stimulators are used as treatment.

Other treatments include cortisone medications, which medical professionals can administer orally or in an injection, the latter is known as an epidural injection. If non-surgical treatments still don’t provide relief to the symptoms, your particular case may require a surgical procedure.

If you are suffering from possible sciatica, here are some things you can do:

  1. Keep a journal of your symptoms. Keep close track of time of day and duration of your symptoms and anything that exacerbates your pain 
  2. Seek help sooner rather than later. The longer you wait to seek treatment, the more your condition could deteriorate.
  3. Make a list of questions you have for your doctor and take it with you so that you can remember to address each of your concerns at your appointment.

Treating sciatica requires the expertise of pain specialists. AZ Pain and Spine is a specialist that offers pain management and treatment solutions for sciatica and other pain conditions. If you are struggling with the pain of sciatica, please contact us today. 

Why You Should Reach Out to AZ Pain and Spine

Bed rest helps relieve the pain and discomfort. However, rest itself is not a treatment. The treatment options for sciatica depend on the cause. But the common treatments include physical therapy, stretching exercises and low back conditioning. These are paired with medications such as antidepressants, anti-inflammatory, muscle relaxants and pain relievers. In chronic forms of sciatica, transcutaneous nerve stimulators are used as treatment.

Other treatments include cortisone medications, which could be oral or injected, the latter is known as epidural injection. If non-surgical treatments still don’t provide relief to the symptoms, surgical procedures may be required.

Treating sciatica requires the expertise of pain specialists. AZ Pain and Spine is a specialist that offers pain management and treatment solutions for sciatica and other pain conditions.