Understanding Sciatica

Sciatica is a well-known condition, but that doesn’t mean it’s well-understood. Even though about 40% of adults will suffer from some type of sciatic pain during their lifetime, many remain in the dark about why they have it and what they can do about it.

To clear up the confusion and offer effective treatment and pain management for those who suffer from sciatica, Dr. Patrick McNulty at McNulty Spine in Las Vegas, Nevada, has compiled this list of facts about your sciatic nerve, including what can possibly go wrong, and what to do when it does. 

Oh, the nerve! 

To understand sciatica, you need to know about the sciatic nerve. This is the longest nerve in your body, and it starts at the base of your back (the lumbar region) and runs down through your buttocks, splits off, runs down each leg, splits again at your knee, and goes all the way down to your foot. That covers a lot of yardage and also means that there are many potential places for this nerve to encounter trouble.

The perilous adventures of the sciatic nerve

As your sciatic nerve travels through the jungle of networking nerves in your lower back, makes its way through your bottom, journeys through your muscular hamstrings, navigates your knee, and treks to its final destination in your foot, it encounters multiple body parts and is subjected to countless bumps and bends. And that’s on a normal day.

If anything out of the ordinary occurs and rubs, pinches, compresses, or otherwise irritates your sciatic nerve, the results can be felt anywhere along the length of it. This is called sciatica, and it’s not necessarily a condition in and of itself, but rather, an umbrella term for the symptoms you feel when an actual medical condition enters the scene and involves your sciatic nerve.

Anything from an injury or infection to a tumor or a tight passageway (spinal stenosis or piriformis syndrome) can be the culprit that causes sciatica. And knowing exactly what’s at the root makes all the difference when it comes to treating it.

Things you may not know about sciatica

Now that you know the basics of sciatica, here are some lesser known facts about it that may help you understand sciatica and what you can do about it.

Diabetes masquerading as sciatica

One of the classic symptoms of diabetes is peripheral neuropathy, or nerve pain. If you have diabetes and are experiencing pain in your leg, you may wonder if you have sciatica, which is also characterized by shooting leg pain. 

While it’s possible to have both diabetes and sciatica, it’s important to get it checked to find out if you have one, the other, or both.

Sciatica prefers men

Anyone at any age can suffer from sciatica, but it tends to strike men most — up to three times as often as women. A few factors contribute to this: 

  1. Sciatica tends to affect those who are tall and heavy (extra weight equals extra pressure on nerves), and more men fall into this category.
  2. The sciatic nerve runs through the piriformis (deep hip rotator), and men’s hips tend to be tighter.
  3. Men carry their thick wallets in their back pocket, and sitting on it presses on the sciatic nerve.

The sciatic limp

Many sciatica sufferers unconsciously change their gait to avoid pain when they walk. If you’re hobbling around with a bit of a limp, it could be a self-defense mechanism pointing to a pinched sciatic nerve.

Sciatica can be serious

Most often, sciatica is an annoyance that comes and goes and can be treated with simple lifestyle changes, exercises, and hot and cold therapies.

But in some cases, The compressed nerve causes severe weakness and numbness or affects your bladder and bowels. Although this level of severity is rare, it is possible and may require surgery.

Dr. McNulty identifies the underlying condition causing your sciatica and treats it first. If you have spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal column), he may perform a lumbar laminectomy to widen the space. Or, he might opt for minimally invasive surgery to decompress your nerve or fuse together two or more vertebrae. 

But surgery isn’t the first or the only option. From nerve blocks and radiofrequency ablation to spinal injections, there are many ways to relieve your sciatica pain. And you’re in good hands with Dr. McNulty, a double-board certified spine specialist who is a leader in the field of orthopedic surgery.

If you feel a twinge in your back or legs, tingling or numbness, or sudden, shooting pain, call us to set up a consultation with Dr. McNulty, or request an appointment online. 

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