Patient Education

To help you understand and navigate through your orthopedic health decisions, we have created a patient education section. Please select from one of the categories below to learn more about your condition or procedure.
Sciatica

Sciatica is a condition characterized by pain radiating along the path of the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back, through the hips and buttocks, and down each leg. It typically affects only one side of the body. The pain can vary from mild to severe and can be accompanied by numbness, tingling, or weakness in the affected leg.

Common Symptoms

  • Radiating Pain: Sharp, burning, or shooting pain that travels from the lower back down the leg.
  • Numbness: Loss of sensation in the affected leg or foot.
  • Tingling: A “pins and needles” sensation in the leg or foot.
  • Weakness: Weakness in the affected leg or foot, making it difficult to move.
  • Lower Back Pain: Pain in the lower back that accompanies leg pain.

Cause & Anatomy

Sciatica is typically caused by irritation or compression of the sciatic nerve. Common causes include:

  • Herniated Disc: A disc in the spine that bulges or ruptures, pressing on the sciatic nerve.
  • Spinal Stenosis: Narrowing of the spinal canal that compresses the nerve roots.
  • Degenerative Disc Disease: Wear and tear on the spinal discs that can cause nerve compression.
  • Piriformis Syndrome: The piriformis muscle in the buttocks irritates or compresses the sciatic nerve.
  • Spondylolisthesis: A condition where one vertebra slips over another, compressing the nerve.
  • Trauma: Injury to the lower back or buttocks that affects the sciatic nerve.

Risk Factors

  • Age: Age-related changes in the spine, such as herniated discs and bone spurs.
  • Obesity: Excess body weight increases stress on the spine.
  • Occupation: Jobs that require heavy lifting, twisting, or prolonged sitting.
  • Prolonged Sitting: Sedentary lifestyle or prolonged sitting increases the risk of sciatica.
  • Diabetes: Increased risk of nerve damage due to high blood sugar levels.

Diagnosis

  • Assessment of symptoms, medical history, and physical evaluation.
  • X-rays to check for bone spurs and spinal alignment.
  • MRI or CT scans to visualize soft tissues, discs, and nerves.
  • Electromyography (EMG) to measure the electrical activity of muscles and assess nerve damage.

Non-Surgical Treatment

Medications:

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers (acetaminophen, ibuprofen).
  • Prescription medications for severe pain (muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatory drugs).

Physical Therapy:

  • Exercises to improve flexibility, strength, and posture.
  • Techniques to alleviate pressure on the sciatic nerve.

Hot and Cold Therapy:

  • Alternating heat and cold packs to reduce inflammation and relieve pain.

Lifestyle Modifications:

  • Avoiding activities that aggravate symptoms.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight and regular exercise.

Alternative Therapies:

  • Chiropractic care, acupuncture, and massage therapy.

Surgical Treatments

Surgery is considered when conservative treatments fail, and symptoms are severe or worsening. Common surgical options include:

  • Microdiscectomy: Removal of the herniated portion of a disc that is pressing on the nerve.
  • Laminectomy: Removal of part of the vertebra (lamina) to relieve pressure on the nerve.
  • Foraminotomy: Enlargement of the space where the nerve exits the spinal canal to relieve compression.

Rehabilitation

Immediate Postoperative Care (for surgical patients)

  • Pain Management: Medications to control postoperative pain.
  • Activity Modification: Gradual return to normal activities, avoiding heavy lifting and twisting initially.
  • Physical Therapy: Early mobilization and exercises to restore function and strength.

Rehabilitation

  • Physical Therapy: Structured program to improve flexibility, strength, and posture.
  • Exercise: Regular low-impact exercises such as walking, swimming, and stretching.
  • Ergonomic Adjustments: Modifying workstations and daily activities to reduce strain on the lower back.

Risks & Complications

  • Persistent Pain: Pain that continues despite treatment.
  • Nerve Damage: Rare risk of permanent nerve damage.
  • Recurrent Symptoms: Recurrence of sciatica symptoms after treatment.
  • Complications from Surgery: Infection, bleeding, or adverse reactions to anesthesia.

Benefits

  • Pain Relief: Significant reduction or elimination of pain.
  • Improved Mobility: Enhanced ability to perform daily activities and exercise.
  • Reduced Risk of Recurrence: Addressing underlying causes reduces the likelihood of recurrence.

FAQ’s

How long does it take to recover from sciatica?
Recovery time varies. Acute sciatica may resolve within a few weeks with conservative treatment, while chronic cases may take longer. Surgery recovery can take several weeks to months.

Can sciatica go away on its own?
Yes, mild cases of sciatica often improve with self-care measures and conservative treatments. However, severe or persistent cases may require medical intervention.

Is bed rest recommended for sciatica?
Prolonged bed rest is not recommended. Short periods of rest may help, but staying active and engaging in gentle exercises is generally more beneficial.

What exercises are best for sciatica?
Exercises that stretch and strengthen the lower back, hips, and legs are beneficial. Examples include hamstring stretches, pelvic tilts, and gentle yoga poses. Consult with a physical therapist for a personalized exercise plan.

Can sciatica be prevented?
While not all cases can be prevented, maintaining a healthy weight, practicing good posture, exercising regularly, and avoiding prolonged sitting or heavy lifting can reduce the risk.

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