What causes sciatic nerve pain and what are the treatments?
Sciatica is pain related to compression and/or irritation of the sciatic nerve. The pain is often felt in the lower back, back of leg, or buttock. The sciatic nerve runs from the lower back down each side of the body. Sciatic nerve pain affects around 40% of people at some point in life. The risk of sciatic goes up with age, since the intravertebral discs degenerate over time.
The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the human body. The sciatic nerves are formed by the combination of five spinal nerves from the lower (lumbar) spine. These nerves run from the lower back, through the buttock, and down into the thigh. The nerves divide into other nerves, providing sensory and muscular function to the lower legs and feet.
Sciatica, and sciatic nerve pain, is a symptom of some condition. Disturbances anywhere along the sciatic nerve may cause sciatica. The most common problem is sciatic nerve compression at the level of the spine. The intervertebral discs are fibrous structures between the spinal bones (the vertebrae), and they have a gel-like center and tough, rubbery exterior. These discs serve as cushions between the vertebrae, and also allow for spine mobility. Over time the intervertebral discs lose their cushioning ability, which leaves nerves susceptible to compression. Excess pressure and stress on the spine causes inflammation of spinal nerves, which leads to sciatica.
What Causes Sciatic Nerve Pain?
Sciatica can arise from:
- Herniated disc
- Degenerative disc disease
- Bone spurs
- Joint cysts
- Disc space narrowing
- Spinal nerve compression
Sciatica Rick Factors and Symptoms
Causes of sciatic nerve pain are related to risk factors. Obesity increases the rate of spinal disc degeneration, and there is a higher incidence of disc lesions among those who are overweight and obese. Certain work-related activities also increase the risk for sciatica, and jobs that require harmful work postures can contribute to the condition. Sciatic nerve irritation is also common among labor workers who do heavy lifting and work jobs that cause whole body vibration.
Sciatica can lead to many symptoms. When the sciatic nerve root is compressed, that patient may experience leg/buttock pain, sharp, searing, electric-shock discomfort, tingling, leg/foot weakness, numbness, and aching. In addition, sciatica can cause loss of sleep, anxiety, and emotional suffering. Usually, the most pain of sciatica is felt in the back of the thigh or buttock (on one side). The condition may come on suddenly or slowly, and it often goes away within a few weeks. Depending on the cause, sciatic pain can last longer than a few weeks.
Sciatica Pain Relief
If you suffer from sciatic nerve pain, it is time to find sciatic nerve pain relief. There are many treatment options. These include:
- Medications – Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), acetaminophen, anticonvulsants, oral steroids, and antidepressants are often used for nerve-related pain. When irritation occurs, an NSAID can decrease inflammation. When severe pain occurs, opioids are often used.
- Physical therapy – To improve posture, help with spine flexibility, and strengthen muscles of the back, some physicians prescribe physical therapy.
- Nerve blocks – This involves injecting the target nerve(s) with a blocking agent, such as lidocaine or bupivacaine. Ultrasound-guidance is often used to assure correct placement of the needle. In a recent study, the procedure was deemed satisfying, and patients enjoyed good results.