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An introduction to sciatica from Laser Spine Institute

In the simplest sense, sciatica is the term used for any condition or irritation associated with the sciatic nerve. As the longest nerve in the human body, the sciatic nerve runs from the lumbar area of the spine down into both legs. Because of its long reach, an aggravated sciatic nerve has the potential to affect the entire lower half of the human body, including a person’s back, hips, buttocks, legs and feet. Without relief, sciatica can have a devastating impact on a person’s ability to enjoy simple activities.

Causes of sciatica

Generally, sciatica results from compression of the sciatic nerve, often caused by deterioration or injury to another part of the body — such as the vertebrae and spinal discs in a person’s back. For example, when bone spurs form on a person’s vertebrae, they may rub against the sciatic nerve and cause pain. Likewise, when a herniated or ruptured disc no longer cushions the sciatic nerve from contact with the vertebrae, sciatica can result. Another common cause of sciatica is spinal stenosis, or narrowing of the spinal canal that houses the spinal cord and nerve roots, including the sciatic nerve.

Sciatica symptoms

Generally, the symptoms and pain associated with sciatica are heavily dependent upon the type of condition causing the compression or irritation. Some of the commonly seen symptoms associated with this condition include:

  • Inability to walk, stand or sit for long periods of time
  • Radiating pain into the legs or feet
  • Radiating tingling into the legs or feet
  • Shooting pain
  • Radiating numbness in the legs or feet
  • Localized pain in the area of the compression
  • Localized numbness

If you are experiencing these or similar symptoms, we understand finding relief is your top priority. Laser Spine Institute’s St. Louis center specializes in treating these through our minimally invasive surgery.

Diagnosing sciatica

A physical examination is usually the first step in determining whether a patient is suffering from sciatica. The diagnosing physician will likely ask the patient for a full medical history, including current symptoms and whether there have been any recent injuries. The patient will then perform a series of movements, such as squatting and lifting the legs one at a time while lying flat on the ground, while the physician checks for signs of pain. If the pain is severe or has been going on for weeks, the physician may order imaging scans and/or an electromyography (EMG), which measures electrical impulses and can often detect nerve compression. These tests can help pinpoint the cause of the patient’s pain.

Conservative and alternative treatments for sciatica

Before recommending that patients look into the available surgical options, we always suggest exhausting all conservative treatments first. These may include:

  • Exercises that improve the body’s flexibility and strengthen core muscles
  • Physical therapy to improve posture
  • A regimen of alternating hot and cold packs
  • Medication and/or injections
  • Lifestyle changes, such as losing weight

In addition, some patients have found relief from sciatica through alternative treatment methods, such as chiropractic care or acupuncture.

Surgical sciatica treatment

Traditionally, the only option for patients suffering from severe sciatica was open back surgery. Now with the new medical advancements and technologies, Laser Spine Institute is able to offer an effective alternative to open back surgery with minimally invasive spine surgery.

If conservative options haven’t brought the relief you require, Laser Spine Institute offers minimally invasive surgery that effectively treats sciatica. Performed through a less than 1-inch incision, our procedures are accompanied by a shorter recovery time and lower risk of complication than those associated with traditional surgery.^

For more information, and a no-cost review of your MRI report or CT scan* to find out if you’re a potential candidate for one of our procedures, contact Laser Spine Institute today.