sciatica

What Causes Sciatica to Flare Up and How Do You Treat It?

SciaticaThe sciatic nerve is the largest in the body and when it gets irritated, it can cause debilitating pain. Sciatic nerve pain can is usually characterized by radiating pain or tingling in the back into the hips and glutes which can extend all the way down to the leg and foot. Knowing what causes sciatica to flare up and how to treat it can help you stay pain free.

Sciatica pain is often the symptom of an underlying problem. Sometimes, the cause is easily treated with pain relievers, anti-inflammatory medications and can corrected through changes in lifestyle. Sciatica include:

  • Sitting for long periods of time
  • Weight gain or obesity
  • Heavy lifting or carrying a heavy object with poor form
  • A sedentary lifestyle
  • Improper form when exercising or lifting weights
  • An awkward sleeping position or a mattress that is too soft
  • Wearing the wrong shoes for an activity or spending a long period of time in high heels

If your pain worsens or lasts for more than a few weeks, seek medical attention. Your sciatica pain may be a symptom of a serious medical condition.  A medical professional can perform an X-ray, CT scan or MRI to diagnose any underlying medical cause. The following conditions are often the root cause of sciatic nerve pain:

Lumbar Spinal Stenosis

On common cause for sciatica is spinal stenosis which is narrowing of the spinal bone channel that houses the spinal cord and nerves. Lumbar stenosis occurs in the lower back where the sciatic nerves are found. While some people are born with a congenital spinal canal defect, for most people, spinal degeneration happens over time. As the spinal bone channel narrows, the spinal nerve roots become compressed, producing tingling, weakness, pain, and numbness associated with sciatica. Stenosis can be treated with exercise, medication, and epidural injections.

Herniated Disc

A herniated disc, also known as a bulging disc, occurs when the soft disc that acts as a cushion between vertebrae pushes through a crack in the exterior casing. This can irritate nerves leading to sciatic pain. Treatment can include medication, physical therapy or surgery.

Degenerative disc disease

As we age, the discs between our vertebrae lose their cushioning and the spine loses flexibility due to the wear and tear of everyday life. The areas of the spine that are in motion the most and endure more stress are the most susceptible to degenerative disc disease. This includes the lumbar, where degeneration often causes sciatic nerve irritation. Degenerative disc disease is often treated with anti-inflammatory medications like NSAIDs, lower back exercises, and through the use of proper ergonomics and posture.

Spondylolisthesis

This condition is a common problem that occurs when a spinal vertebra slips forward onto the bone below it. Athletes who put stress on the bones in the lower back, like gymnasts or football players, are especially at risk for this condition. If the vertebra slips too far, it can lead to a pinched nerve that causes severe pain or leg numbness. Treatment for spondylolisthesis begins with rest and medication. If the condition is severe, it may require surgery to move the displaced vertebra.

Bone Spurs

Sciatica can be caused by an overgrowth of bone, called a bone spur, which occurs on your vertebrae. Bone spurs develop from normal wear and tear on the spine due to age, or from injury. Bone spurs can cause pain by irritating the sciatic nerves in the surrounding area. Lower back pain from bone spurs is most common among patients over 60 years old, but they can be hereditary or due to poor nutrition, bad posture, and injury, which can cause them to develop earlier in life.

Tumors

In rare cases, sciatica pain is the result of a tumor pressing on the sciatic nerve. There are several types of spinal tumors that are benign. These tumors can be surgically removed, often without lasting nerve damage. Cancerous tumors occur in the vertebral column and can grow from either the bone or disc area. They typically occur in younger adults and usually grow slowly.

Get help

Sciatica pain can be categorized as acute or chronic. Acute cases are characterized by flare-ups that may last for 6 to 8 weeks. Chronic sciatica symptoms, while less severe, are ongoing for months or years.

You don’t have to live in pain. No matter what your condition is, our experienced team at Arizona Pain and Spine Institute will help you explore your treatment options and teach you to manage your symptoms for lasting pain relief. Call us at 480-986-7246 to set up a consultation.

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