Sciatica: Symptoms and Diagnosis

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Sciatica describes the pain that starts in the lower back and radiates down one or both legs. In most cases, it only affects one side of the body, but it can also affect both sides at the same time. The pain can be mild or severe. It may clear up on its own for some people, but others require medical treatment. Some people experience chronic sciatica, and others may only experience it once and for a short period of time.

Risk Factors for Sciatica

Certain people are more at risk to have sciatica than others. These people are not only more likely to develop it once, but over and over again. There are certain indicators that make a person more likely to suffer from a pinched sciatic nerve. These include:

Causes of Sciatica

Sciatica occurs when the nerve in the sciatic nerve becomes pinched. Here are many things that can cause this to happen. Some people experience sciatica when they lift something heavy, sleep in an odd position, or twist their bodies in the wrong way. Some other causes include:

  • Herniated disk
  • Tumor
  • Car accident
  • Fall accident
  • Lifting heavy objects
  • Sport injuries
  • Work injuries

Symptoms of Sciatica

Most people experience a sharp pain with sciatica. Some people also experience a constant stinging sensation. Sciatica affects everyone differently and can be worse for some people than others. Some other common symptoms of sciatica include:

  • Numbness
  • Lower back pain
  • Discomfort along the spine
  • Leg pain
  • Hip pain
  • Neck pain
  • Trouble controlling bowels or bladder
  • Balance problems

Diagnosis of Sciatica

Doctors often perform a physical exam to determine if a person is suffering from sciatica or another type of back injury. They will consider the site of the pain and the patient’s other symptoms. They may also perform diagnostic tests that include:

  • X-ray
  • MRI
  • CT Scan
  • EMG

Treatment of Sciatica

Treatment is often focused on helping the patient relax, so there is no pressure on the nerve. If there is an injury causing the sciatic pain, doctors may prescribe medication. Some common medications include:

  • Anti-inflammatories
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Narcotics
  • Tricyclic antidepressants
  • Anti-seizure medications

Other treatment options include physical therapy and injections. Some patients will undergo several treatments at one time for a more aggressive treatment. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary. Surgery helps adjust the patient’s back and repair the herniated disks so that they do not pinch the sciatic nerve.

Prognosis of Sciatica

The prognosis for sciatica is good. Most people recover within a week. Some people may suffer from chronic sciatica due to a back problem or another health problem. Finding an effective treatment plan is essential for avoiding debilitation pain and other problems. Sciatica tends to get worse as people age. The success of the treatment also tends to be less in older adults.

Complications of Sciatica

If left untreated, sciatica can become severe and interfere with a person’s daily activities. Sciatica can also cause pain problems in other parts of the body. Some people who suffer from severe sciatica have a hard time standing up, sitting down, or lying on a bed. It can make sleeping, riding cars, and sitting at a desk difficult too. Once the sciatica is treated properly, these complications usually go away. The longer a person suffers from sciatica, the higher the risk of having permanent problems.