If you’re suffering from the nagging aches and pains of sciatica, you’re not alone. As many as 40% of Americans are right there with you, dealing with nagging pain in their back, buttocks, or legs.
Even though sciatica involves the nerves in your lower back, it can cause a lot more than back pain. Many people have pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness that extends into their legs and feet. Diagnosing the cause of sciatica is the first step in relieving its uncomfortable symptoms.
At his practices in Carmel, Kokomo, and Indianapolis, Indiana, Jonathan Gentile, MD, begins every treatment plan with a comprehensive evaluation to understand potential causes. Here’s a quick review of some of the possible causes of your sciatica symptoms.
Sciatica is a general term for painful symptoms that happen when the sciatic nerve is compressed or “pinched.” The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in our body. As it exits your lower spine, it branches off into two main branches, with each branch traveling down one leg.
Nerve compression and irritation are what causes sciatica — but what causes the compression and irritation in the first place? There are several possibilities.
Discs are spongy cushions located between each pair of spine bones, providing shock absorption and flexibility in your back. Sometimes, a disc shifts slightly out of its usual space, extending beyond the edge of your spine bones.
When that happens, the herniated disc can press on nerves — including the sciatic nerve — causing lower back pain along with symptoms of neuropathy. Pain, tingling, and other neuropathic symptoms can happen anywhere along the length of the nerve, sometimes all the way down your leg.
Bone spurs are bony growths that form along the edge of some bones, including your spine bones. These growths often happen alongside arthritis. As the spurs grow, they can wind up pressing on your sciatic nerve.
Like arthritis, spinal stenosis tends to happen more often as we get older. In this condition, the area inside the spinal canal starts to narrow. Less space inside the spinal canal means the risk of nerve compression increases, making sciatica more likely.
Degenerative disc disease causes the slow breakdown of the cushioning discs, which means the space between your spine bones narrows over time. Eventually, the decrease in disc space causes the nerves to become compressed, especially where they exit the spinal canal. The risk of degenerative disc disease also increases with age.
Cancerous and noncancerous tumors that form in the lower back area or along the spine are another possible cause of sciatica. As the growths get larger, they can press on the sciatic nerve, causing symptoms that tend to worsen over time.
Sciatica typically develops as a result of changes in or around your spine. Some of these changes involve a shift in your center of gravity, which in turns puts uneven force on your lower back. Eventually, that can cause a disc to slip out of place.
Other changes may be related to getting older or to an underlying medical problem or disease. Some common risk factors include:
Many of these risk factors, like your posture and your weight, are modifiable, which means you can take steps to change them. Being more active, losing excess pounds, and improving ergonomics at work and at home can all help reduce your risk for developing sciatica.
Dr. Gentile is experienced in treating sciatica no matter what’s causing it. If you have sciatica pain, scheduling an evaluation is the first step toward feeling better. To learn more about sciatica treatments, call the office or book an appointment online, and let Dr. Gentile develop a treatment plan just for you.