What is Sciatica?

Sciatica describes the symptoms of leg pain that may be associated with tingling, numbness, or weakness. It originates in the lower back and travels through the hip and down the large sciatic nerve in the back of the leg. Sciatica may continue to the foot or toes causing leg, hip or back pain.

Baptist Health is known for advanced, superior care for patients with orthopedic conditions and the diagnosis, treatment and management of sciatica. You will appreciate timely appointments and a professional, friendly atmosphere where we take time to listen to your concerns. At Baptist Health, you have access to the region’s most comprehensive, multidisciplinary team of specialists and innovative therapies, including many available only through specialized clinical trials. In every way, we work to demonstrate the utmost in excellent care to those who trust us with their health.

Sciatica Symptoms

Symptoms of sciatica can include:

  • Lower back pain or hip pain that can vary from a mild ache to excruciating pain
  • Pain in the buttock or leg that gets worse when sitting
  • Burning, tingling or weakness that starts in the lower back and radiates down the back of one leg (rarely both)
  • Pain that makes it difficult to stand from a sitting position
  • Weakness or numbness in the leg or foot

Sciatica Diagnosis

If sciatica is suspected, a physical examination and a review of symptoms is done. Advanced diagnostic procedures and technology to effectively diagnose, treat and and sometimes monitor the condition is utilized. Common diagnostic procedures for sciatica can include:

CT scan:X-rays and computers are used to create images of the affected area. This provides a more detailed picture than an ultrasound.

Discography: During this procedure, a needle injects contrast dye into one or more discs in the back and a CT scan is done to determine the condition of the back’s discs.

Electromyography (EMG): During this test, small, thin needles are placed in the muscles of the arms and legs to record the electrical activity and indicate function.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI):A large magnet, radio waves and a computer are used to produce pictures of the back.

X-rays: This is a common imaging test of bones or joints.

Sciatica Causes

Preventable sciatica causes include:

  • Excess body weight
  • Wearing high heel shoes
  • Sleeping on a mattress that is too soft
  • Occupations requiring twisting of the back, carrying heavy loads or driving a vehicle for long periods of time
  • A sedentary lifestyle

Sciatica Risk Factors

Risk factors that can contribute to sciatica include:

Age: General wear and tear changes in the aging spine such as degenerative disc disease, herniated disks and bone spurs can contribute to the conditions that lead to sciatica.

Isthmic spondylolisthesis: In this condition, a small stress fracture allows one vertebral body to slip forward on another, leading to irritation of the sciatic nerve.

Lumbar spinal stenosis: This condition is a narrowing of the spinal canal and is relatively common in adults older than age 60.

Diabetes. The risk of nerve damage increases when the body cannot regulate and process the amount of sugar in the blood.

Sciatica Prevention

While many risk factors cannot be controlled, you can help prevent sciatica in these ways:

Regular exercise: Maintain a strong spine by focusing on the core muscles of the abdomen and lower back 

Proper sitting posture: Use a seat with good back support, armrests and a swivel base. Keep knees and hips level and place a pillow or rolled towel in the small of the back to provide a normal curve.

Good body mechanics: Use lower extremities, not the back, to lift heavy objects and/or find a partner to help. Avoid lifting and twisting at the same time. Hold heavy loads close to the body. Rest one foot on a stool or small box from time to time when standing for an extended period.

Sciatica stretches: Though it may seem counterintuitive, muscle movement can help relieve the leg pain associated with sciatica. Stretching exercises for the hamstrings and lower back are effective, if properly done. 

Sciatica Prognosis

The prognosis for people with sciatica depends on the underlying cause, treatment utilized, and on reducing the causes that may lead to reoccurrence. With conservative treatment, many patients recover from sciatica within six months.

The prognosis for people with sciatica depends on the underlying cause, treatments utilized, and the factors, if any, potentially leading to recurrence. Sciatica sometimes clears up on its own, without recourse to medical intervention. With conservative treatment, many patients recover from sciatica within six months.

Sciatica Pain Treatment and Recovery

The main sciatica treatments are:

The goal of this treatment is to decrease pain and increase mobility. Over-the-counter pain and anti-inflammatory medicines can help to relieve pain and stiffness and allow for increased movement and exercise.

Physical Therapy
Physical therapy for sciatica can reduce pressure on the sciatic nerve. Options include sciatica stretches exercises, walking and strengthening of the core muscles. Yoga, massage and biofeedback are examples of alternative therapies that bring some people sciatica pain relief.

Spinal Injections
An injection of anti-inflammatory medicine into the lower back can help reduce swelling of the sciatic nerve roots.

Sciatica Surgery
Sciatica Surgery is reserved for people who do not respond to conservative treatments, have progressing symptoms and are experiencing severe pain and/or disfunction.

Sciatica Complications

Complications of sciatica may include permanent nerve damage or chronic muscle weakness. Pregnant women can also experience sciatica as a result of the added stress on the muscles and joints of the lower back and pelvis.

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