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What You Need to Know About Symptoms and Treatment of Sciatica

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Many may feel compelled to worry about sciatica symptoms without actually understanding what it is. If you feel a sudden and severe pain or numbness and weakness radiating from the buttocks down the back of one leg to the foot, then you most likely have developed sciatica. The pain can be extremely crippling and is usually intense when you walk, however, it diminishes when you lie down. Before you start to fret too much, you should know that sciatica is common. According to statistics provided by the University of Maryland Medical Center, more than three million Americans are diagnosed with the condition. Between 10 to 15 percent of patients have a family history of back problems, there are no risk factors, and no behavior predisposes you to it.

The branching of the sciatic nerve from the spine in the lower back through the hips and buttocks is the cause of sciatica. Here, the nerve runs down the back of each leg to the foot. Sciatica occurs when this nerve is pinched in the lower back by spinal disc herniation, protruding disc material, or a larger fragment of disc material. Disc herniation usually occurs during normal activities, such as rising from bed.


As for treatment options, those with sciatica that do not have severe symptoms typically receive oral steroids (anti-inflammatories) for seven days. Once mobile, engaging in physical therapy is highly suggested for a while before being re-evaluated. Should symptoms persist, it is necessary to receive an injection of steroids at the nerve root in order to reduce pain. If this process is not successful, physicians will offer surgery. However, if a patient is unable to stand or becomes bed-bound, they are advised to have surgery sooner. It is important to know that 80 to 90 percent of patients get better without surgery, so there is no need to stress too much about your sciatica condition.

Seeking advice from your health professional is always suggested, but if you decide to take the surgery route, be prepared to undergo a minimally invasive procedure which will last less than an hour. The surgical process consists of removing the disc material pressing on the nerve. If dealing with physical pain is not your favorite thing, you should also know that most patients are pain-free following surgery. According to John Abrahams, MD, FAANS, Co-Director of Spine Surgery at the Orthopedic and Spine Institute at Northern Westchester Hospital, “patients have arrived without the ability to stand or walk for more than a few minutes and end up walking out of our doors with full walking capability. The turnaround time for our patients usually takes place within the same day after surgery, in which they become completely asymptomatic.”

Dr. Abrahams shared these facts about sciatica:
● It recurs in ten percent of people, who may suffer recurrent bouts of the condition
throughout their life.
● Not every pain in your leg traces to sciatica. The pain is described as a burning
pain that shoots down the back of the leg to the foot from the buttocks and usually
affects only one side.
● Obesity or being overweight are not risk factors for disc herniation, which is the
root cause of sciatica.
● Herniation is typically triggered by everyday activities such as getting out of bed
or turning to one side. As we do so, our body makes a wrong twist.

John Abrahams, MD, FAANS

The Northern Westchester Hospital team aims to educate patients and provide the best treatment for healing. Learn more about Dr. John Abrahams and advanced spine surgery at nwhorthoandspine.org

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