Most pain and spine specialists treat a range of different conditions and sciatica is one of the most common ones. Despite wide prevalence, this is also one of the most misunderstood conditions and partly explains why some go so long without getting proper management.
Thus it is important clear up some of the myths surrounding the condition in hopes that patients get the right information and are able to explore multiple available options for relief.
What is Sciatica
Sciatica is defined as sharp pain emanating from the lower back and often shooting down into the legs. The actual presentation and extent of the symptoms can be quite wide ranging depending on both the cause, extent and the severity of the condition. Symptoms may include sharp, severe pain in the lower back, burning or tingling sensations or constant pain through one or both extremities.
Some people may also experience weakness in one or both legs and, potentially, may be unable ambulate properly without assistance.
Because of the wide ranging presentation, some may assume incorrect assumptions and conclusions.
Myth #1: Leg problems are the root of sciatica.
This myth couldn’t be more false. Sciatica is not caused by leg problems, but due to an irritation or compression of the sciatic nerves in the back. The is often caused by pressure on one or both of these nerves and can be due degenerative disease, disc deformities, spinal stenosis and injury to the lower back or sciatic nerve. Rarely, the cause can be a spinal cord tumor or tumor spread from other areas.
Myth #2: Sciatic pains only affect the upper legs.
This one is also false, as the sciatic nerves extend down from the lower back down each leg into the foot. Although pain in the lower back, buttocks and upper legs is more common, severe damage or irritation at corresponding spine levels can send pain shooting all the way to the toes.
Myth #3: Sciatica does not cause permanent damage.
In severe cases and if left untreated, irritation or damage to the sciatic nerves can result in permanent nerve damage. In turn, this could lead to weakness, muscle loss, and depending upon the cause and location, to bladder or bowel issues. That is why it’s important to see a doctor when you experience sciatic pain.
Myth #4: Sciatica is a permanent condition.
Some sciatic sufferers are unfortunately under the assumption that they will have to live with the condition. This may not be true. Depending on the level of damage or irritation, in some sciatica pain and symptoms may resolve on own its own over time but proper treatment can usually help speed up this process. If symptoms are a result of some underlying disease process, trauma or injury, the cause will first need to be taken care of in order to relieve the pressure and/or irritation. Physical therapy, anti-inflammatory drugs and epidural steroid injections are the usual treatment options. Spinal cord stimulation is a newer approach for management. In severe and unresolved cases, or those due to a tumor, surgery may be the ultimate choice.
Fact: You don’t have to live with sciatica pain.
The fact is that we now have multiple treatment options of sciatica that, if sought early in the course of the disease process, can be effective at reducing the symptoms, avoiding long term complications and improving function and the quality of life.
That is why it is important that patients noticing such symptoms, seek early advice from a qualified pain and/or spine specialist for evaluation and to rule out more serious, and possibly life threatening ailments.
This could be the first step towards the goal of a long lasting or, in many cases, permanent relief.