Everyone has heard of sciatica, but few people know what it actually is – or isn’t. Sciatica is not a spinal condition, or a disease, but a set of symptoms associated with a variety of spinal conditions, characterized by irritation or compression of the sciatic nerve. The longest nerve in the body, the sciatic nerve extends from the base of the spine through the hips and buttocks and down the legs to the tips of the feet. Symptoms of compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve can include radiating pain, numbness, muscle weakness, a tingling sensation along the length of the nerve, and lower back pain.
Several spinal conditions can cause sciatica. A herniated disc or a ruptured disc in the lower back – the lumbar spine – can press against or leak fluid into the spinal canal, putting pressure on the sciatic nerve. Traumatic injuries such as car accidents or falls can cause compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve roots or the nerve itself. A slipped disc, or spondylolisthesis, can also cause sciatica if it impinges on any part of the sciatic nerve. Lumbar spinal stenosis – the narrowing of the spinal canal in the lower back – can also compress or irritate the sciatic nerve.
Conservative, non-surgical treatments typically include physical therapy, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and low-impact exercises. Alternative methods such as massage therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic adjustments, and acupressure may also be employed. However, surgery for sciatica, such as a discectomy or foraminotomy, may be required for relief of sciatica in the most severe cases of unrelenting and debilitating symptoms. Spinal decompression surgery relieves the pressure, and is often paired with spine fusion surgery to stabilize the spine after decompression. But fusion eliminates the independent mobility of the fused vertebrae. Now there’s an alternative spinal surgery proven to provide better clinical outcomes than fusion, which preserves the patient’s natural range of motion of the individual vertebrae – the TOPS Posterior Arthroplasty procedure. This is one of the exciting advances bringing new hope and treatment options to patients with moderate to severe spinal conditions that do not respond to conservative treatments. We at Premia Spine are on the forefront of developing advanced surgical treatments for spinal disorders. We encourage anyone with lower back pain to investigate all their treatment options.