When someone is diagnosed with sciatica, this means that the sciatic nerve in their leg is inflamed. This nerves gives information to the leg about how to move and sends the information about any kind of feelings back to your brain. The nerve is very large, in fact, it is the biggest peripheral nerve in the human body.
The sciatic nerve is made up of the lower sections of the spinal column. It is made up of the lumbar and sacral nerve endings from the spine. The sciatic nerve comes out at the lower end of the spine (lumbosacral area), goes behind the hip, and goes down the back of your thigh.
How does This Nerve Normally Work?
The sciatic nerve has two basic jobs: one, it directs the signals from the brain to your muscles, and two, it collects information about senses from your legs and sends this back to your brain. Sciatica can change the normal functioning. This will show up as weakness in your legs or aching in your thighs and legs, or both.
What Causes Sciatica?
The most common cause of this condition is a herniated disc in your spinal cord. When this occurs, the cushion that is usually between your vertebrae will rupture. This makes the disc bulge out into the area that normally contains the nerves. The nerves get pinched and people get pain, weakness, and a feeling of numbness in their legs. Other spinal conditions such as spndylolisthesis, stenosis, or piriformis can also irritate the sciatic nerve and cause these symptoms to occur.
What are the Symptoms or Signs of Sciatica?
It causes both muscular and sensory abnormalities in the thighs and legs. Commonly experienced symptoms are:
Cramping feeling in the thigh
shooting pains in the buttocks area, down the back of your leg
Tingling feelings in your legs
A burning feeling in your thigh
Also, you may have worse symptoms when you squat down or cough. These put more pressure on the nerve and make the symptoms worse.
Who is Likely to Develop Sciatica?
It can occur in anyone, but not very commonly in younger patients. It typically affects people ages 30-50. It usually comes on suddenly and most people connect it with a back injury or over exerting themselves.
What Can I Do for Sciatica?
You need to find out for sure if this is the cause of your problems. Your doctor can take an extensive history, examine you, and test your nerve functions. There are other things that can cause pain in this area, and they need to be checked. It is important to determine the cause of your symptoms before treating you for sciatica. Other tests such as x-rays or an MRI can be helpful, but not necessarily needed.
What Treatments are There for Sciatica?
It is usually directed at treating the inflammation that goes along with sciatica. Rest, taking pain medicine to help the inflammation, and muscle relaxers can be a good start. Some may have to have more powerful treatments and take steroids called Medrol. These have some side effects, but are very helpful in treating sciatica.
Once the pain goes away somewhat, physical therapy and exercise are important. Heat and ice packs are also good for helping ease the pain. Some doctors may suggest an epidural injection of steroids to send the anti-inflammatory dose right to the nerve's inflamed area.
Surgical treatment is not usually recommended, but in someone who has the treatments for 3-6 months with no relief, surgery may be an option. The method gives more room around the nerve area. This may involve taking out the disc that ruptured, opening up the bone near the nerve, or both of them. Always get a second opinion before you agree to surgery, and talk to the neurosurgeon about what you can expect after your surgery as far as recovery time and if you will have any ill effects from it.
Will I Recuperate from Sciatica?
This is good news for sufferers. Up to 90% of people usually make a full recovery without needing surgery. Most of the time, the nerve has no permanent damage, and people can recover in about 3 weeks to a month. Most people just need to take a little bit of time to recuperate and get the feelings back in their legs.
Sciatica does not represent an emergency. But, if you suffer loss of bowel or bladder functions, decreased feeling around the genitals or progressively worsening leg weakness, this could represent cauda equina syndrome which is an emergency. If you have any of the above symptoms, go immediately to an emergency room or contact your physician.
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