Sciatica pain is often described as radiating pain that goes from the lower back down into the leg. It usually affects only one side of the body and is commonly caused by either a herniated disc or spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal.
The herniated disc can press against the lumbar nerve root, causing sciatica pain symptoms. Herniated discs can contribute to spinal stenosis, as the disc can protrude into the spinal canal, causing the space to narrow. If the spinal canal narrows, it can pinch the spinal nerve and roots, causing pain and other symptoms.
In many cases, sciatica can develop due to lifestyle habits. Lack of exercise, living a sedentary lifestyle, and being overweight can cause this condition to develop or worsen.
Can Sciatica Be Prevented?
Sciatica is not always preventable, but there is a lot you can do to reduce your risk. Doctors advise patients to protect their back and spine from injuries to reduce their risk of disc herniation and spinal stenosis. Exercising regularly helps keep back, leg, and core muscles strong, which reduces strain on the spine. Maintaining a healthy weight helps prevent the abdomen from pushing forward, which often affects posture and spine alignment, and puts pressure on the lower back.
In addition to exercising and maintaining a healthy weight, proper posture is also important. Proper posture when you stand and sit (choosing an ergonomic chair that supports the lower back and keeps the hips and knees level) helps maintain the normal curve of the spine. Using proper lifting techniques, by bending at the knees and avoiding twisting the back can help prevent back injuries that often lead to disc herniation and spinal stenosis.
How is Sciatica Treated?
Most often, patients are treated using physical therapy. A good physical therapy program can help address biomechanical issues, help the patient learn how to move correctly, as well as strengthen weak muscles, to reduce pressure on the lower back and improve its flexibility.
Treatment for sciatica also focuses on controlling symptoms. Your doctor may prescribe medication to relieve pain, such as anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants, and anti-seizure medications. Steroid injections directed into the area around the irritated or inflamed nerve root can help reduce inflammation and relieve pain. The effects of steroid injections can last a few months. However, medications and injections are usually only recommended for chronic and severe cases.
Sciatica patients with severe symptoms that include considerable loss of function may have their condition successfully addressed with surgery. Below are the surgical procedures performed to treat sciatica:
- Lumbar Discectomy – This surgical procedure involves the removal of the portion of the herniated disc or bone that is causing irritation and inflammation of the sciatic nerve. Usually an open surgery, a lumbar discectomy can now be performed using a minimally invasive approach or a microdiscectomy. Up to 86 percent of patients who undergo a microdiscectomy for sciatica experience pain relief.
- Lumbar Decompression Surgery – For sciatica caused by spinal stenosis, the doctor may recommend decompression surgery. It involves the removal of the bone or tissue to create more room in the spinal canal and relieve pressure on the nerve roots. This procedure can also be performed using a minimally invasive technique, with the use of an endoscope — a tube with a tiny camera. Up to 90 percent of patients who undergo lumbar decompression surgery by interlaminar route experience relief from sciatica pain after surgery.
Sciatica Treatment in Central Maryland
The experts at Orthopaedic Associates of Central Maryland have a wealth of experience treating conditions like sciatica. We have two board-certified orthopaedic surgeons fellowship-trained in spine surgery: Dr. Oren G. Blam and Dr. Uchechi A. Iweala. We will perform a thorough examination to diagnose your condition and recommend the best treatment options available.
To make an appointment, call (410) 644-1880 or use our online request form. We look forward to being your partner in spine health.