Millions of Americans are currently affected by sciatica, and its impact ranges from minor discomfort to serious debilitation. Despite how widespread it is, there is a lot of confusion and misinformation about sciatica. Most people who experience the effects of sciatica will visit a chiropractic clinic due to the associated back pain, especially low back pain. However, very few patients understand exactly what they are experiencing, why it is happening and what they can do in terms of treatment and prevention.
Below is a list from your chiropractor of the 10 key facts that you need to know about sciatica.
• Sciatica is actually a set of specific symptoms that result from an underlying medical condition. It describes the tingling, pain, numbness or weakness that begins in the lower back and then moves toward the large sciatic nerve that is located in the legs.
• The underlying condition will vary depending on age. For people under 60, it is usually degenerative disc disease, a lumbar herniated disc or isthmic spondylolisthesis. For people over 60, it is more often degenerative changes to the spine like degenerative spondylolisthesis or lumbar spinal stenosis.
• The location is important. There are 5 nerve roots in your lower back that join together in forming your large sciatic nerve. The symptoms will usually be dictated by which nerve roots are irritated or pinched.
• It is possible to experience multiple symptoms. Multiple nerve roots can all be pinched at once, so you can experience a mixture of symptoms.
• The underlying condition will help determine your treatment plan. It is common to recommend exercise as a treatment, but the specific exercise will depend on the underlying condition.
• The exact medical term for sciatica is actually lumbar radiculopathy. Sciatica is also often referred to as compressed or pinched nerve pain. While it can be confusing when you hear these three terms used interchangeably, they are the same diagnosis.
• The results of nonsurgical treatment and surgery are similar in the long run. Surgery usually offers quicker pain relief, but both outcomes are the same after around a year.
• Some symptoms will need immediate medical attention. It is uncommon, but symptoms can require immediate surgery. If you are experiencing worsening neurological symptoms, if the neurological symptoms are happening in both legs, if you experience bowel or bladder incontinence or if the symptoms occur as a result of trauma or accident, then you need immediate medical attention.
• There are conditions that mimic sciatica. There are a number of causes for leg pain that are not caused by the irritation of lower-back nerves.
• Relief can usually happen quickly. Most sufferers find relief from the symptoms within 6 to 12 weeks, and do not require surgical intervention. To ease the pain from sciatica, you can apply cold and/or heat, low-impact aerobics and gentle stretching.