You wake one day and find that certain movements send shooting pain down one of your legs. After testing which movements lead to pain, you realize that the problem seems to originate in your lower back even though the pain is in your leg.
The team of spine experts at Spinal Diagnostics has extensive experience treating this painful and debilitating condition called sciatica. To give you an idea about what you’re up against, here’s a look at what causes sciatica and why it leads to leg pain.
To better understand sciatica, it’s helpful to have a clear picture of the anatomy in question, namely your lower back.
Your spine contains 33 vertebrae in total, and the five that make up your lower back are collectively called your lumbar spine. Separating these large vertebrae are discs that provide support and cushioning and play a crucial role in the wide range of motion your lower back enjoys.
While your spine plays no small role in your support and mobility, it also acts as the primary passageway between your central and peripheral nervous systems through your spinal cord.
Your lumbar spine is where your sciatic nerve roots are found, which form your body’s largest nerve — your sciatic nerve. This nerve travels from your lumbar spine and down the back of both your legs to your feet.
When the nerve roots associated with your sciatic nerve become irritated or compressed in your lumbar spine, it causes symptoms that can travel down one side of your buttocks and legs. While pain is the one symptom that gets your attention, you can also experience numbness, tingling, or muscle weakness down your leg.
There are several causes of sciatica, and most involve the intervertebral discs in your lumbar spine. When a disc in this area herniates or bulges, it can seep out of its vertebral space and irritate or compress the nerve roots in the area, including your sciatic nerve.
The good news is that, in many cases, sciatica does get better, often with conservative treatments like rest, icing, and anti-inflammatory medications. Massage therapy, physical therapy, and spinal adjustments are also effective in bringing relief while also tackling the underlying problem in your lumbar spine.
If, however, your sciatica isn’t responding to conservative treatments or your sciatica tends to recur, there are steps we can take to alleviate the pain and discomfort. To start, we may try an epidural corticosteroid injection, which we direct into the area where the nerve root is located to quiet the pain and address the inflammation.
If you have a chronic problem with sciatica, we can explore whether a spinal cord stimulator may help. With this approach, we implant a device near your nerve that emits electrical signals that disrupt the pain messaging.
Whether your sciatica is acute or chronic, we’re here to help. The first step in relieving your leg pain is to contact one of our two locations in Tualatin or Newberg, Oregon, to set up an appointment.