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Understanding Nerve Compression and Sciatic Pain
Understanding Nerve Compression and Sciatic Pain

Many people will suffer from sciatica at some point in their lives.  The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body, running from the lower spine behind each hip, and down the buttocks and legs to the feet. Sciatic pain occurs when there has been irritation of the sciatic nerve.  Pain can occur anywhere along the nerve, typically on only one side of the body.  The pain may present as numbness, shooting pain, or a tingling sensation like pins and needles.  Intensity of the pain may range from mild to severe.  Acute cases of sciatica can last from weeks to months and become debilitating for the patient.

What causes sciatic pain?

Sciatic pain usually involves a compressed or pinched nerve.  A lumbar or lower back disc may protrude into the spinal canal and press on the nerve, causing pain or numbness.  A bone spur from a vertebra may also press on the nerve.  Sciatic pain may be the result of spinal stenosis or a narrowing of the spinal cord.  In rare cases, a tumor may be compressing the nerve.  Sciatic pain may result from an injury.

There are a number of other contributors to sciatic pain.  The pain may become particularly noticeable after some types of strenuous exercise, improper lifting, or trying to lift or move an object that is too heavy.  The pain may become evident after sitting for long periods of time, such as a lengthy flight or car trip.  Obesity and excess weight may cause spinal changes leading to sciatica.  Age-related spinal changes including bone spurs, arthritis, and degenerative disc disease are common contributors to sciatic pain.

How is sciatica treated?

Sometimes sciatic pain will resolve on its own after a few weeks.  Over-the-counter or prescription anti-inflammatory drugs can help in the recovery.  Epidural injections may be used in acute cases.  Surgery may be indicated if a disc is herniated, a bone spur is causing the problem, or there are significant issues controlling the bladder or bowel.  Surgery may include discectomy to remove the herniated disc, or a lumbar laminectomy to widen the spinal cord in the low back and reduce pressure on the sciatic nerve.  However, most cases of sciatica can be successfully treated without surgery.

Can recurrences of sciatica be prevented?

Because sciatica tends to recur, the patient should take measures to protect the low back from further injury.  Proper lifting techniques should be practiced.  Always squat down to lift.  Never bend forward and avoid twisting the body.  The patient should try to avoid sitting for extended periods of time.  It’s helpful to get up, move around, or change positions.  After the sciatic pain improves, the doctor may prescribe physical therapy.  Certain exercises can strengthen the supporting back muscles, improve flexibility, and correct poor posture.  Stretches that rotate the hip may provide pain relief.  Examples include a standing hamstring stretch, a sitting spinal stretch, and the reclining pigeon pose which is common in yoga.  These exercises should be done with care and after proper instruction, as flexibility among patients will vary.

If you suffer from sciatic pain, contact the specialists at Atlanta Brain and Spine Care.  They have the expertise to diagnose and treat sciatic pain, lumbar disc herniation, and degenerative disc disease.

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