Have you or someone you know suffered from sciatica? Statistics show that sciatica will affect 80-90% of people at one point of their life. Sciatica is a widespread term used to describe low back pain and leg pain. Many people describe sciatica as either an acute injury from straining their backs or having chronic low back problems with sciatica flare ups.
While most people use the term “sciatica” for any low back pain that radiates down their leg, it is not commonly known that sciatica is a symptom and not an actual diagnosis. The symptom of sciatica is caused by the patients’ sciatic nerve being compressed by another spinal structure, and in order to address the correct dysfunction and relieve discomfort it is important to identify the correct problem.
The clinical diagnosis and treatment would stem from whatever is causing the nerve compression. Some of the most common low back problems that cause sciatica are disc herniations, degenerative disc disease, and spinal stenosis. Disc herniations (also known as bulging discs or slipped discs) is when the inner core of a spinal disc in the low back extrudes and places pressure on a nerve where it is leaving the spine before it courses down the leg. Degenerative disc disease is when the discs between the spinal vertebrae get weak and allow excess motion in the spine that then results in irritation of the nerve roots. Finally, spinal stenosis is common with the aging process. Stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal in the low back. With a narrower canal, the nerve roots can be pinched and aggravated.
Sciatica can present differently in all people. It can range from pain anywhere from the low back and down the buttocks, the back of the leg, feet, and sometimes even the toes. The pain can be described many different ways including sharp pinching pain, burning, tingling, and/or numbness feeling. Severity and duration of sciatica varies greatly but there is no hard and fast rule.
Many people try and treat their sciatica independently but if not done properly, prolonged sciatica can cause permanent nerve damage and a longer time of debility. The best course of action if you or someone you know is experiencing sciatica is to call a physical therapist. In North Carolina, you don’t need a doctor’s referral for physical therapy; sometimes your insurance may require a referral but the physical therapy office can let you know if you need one or not.