Lumbar (Low Back) Pain Sciatica

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Is Sciatica to Blame for Your Low Back Pain?

The small spinal discs between each vertebra in the spine serve to protect and cushion it. When one or more of these discs is damaged, pressure can be exerted on the surrounding nerves. The largest and most well-known nerve, called the sciatic nerve, originates in the lumbar (lower) spine. When this nerve is irritated, sometimes severe pain in the low back can result.

Understanding the Role of Sciatica in Lumbar Spine Pain

To better understand what Sciatica is and how it can contribute to low back pain, knowledge of the spine’s makeup of the spine is important. The spine is composed of small bony vertebrae, that when connected, form a long chain that protects the spinal cord. In between each of these small bones is an intervertebral disc. This disc acts like a pillow to cushion the vertebrae and absorb the shock to the spine that is caused by everyday movements including walking and running.

Spinal discs are composed of a soft gel-like center (called the nucleus), surrounded by a harder outer lining. In the instance that there is stress placed on the disc, the soft center may protrude, or herniate, through the outer lining. This protruding disc may in turn place pressure on the surrounding nerves, specifically the Sciatic nerve. If the nerve problem occurs in the neck, it is referred to as cervical radiculopathy. However, because sciatica affects the lower back, it is classified as a type of lumbar radiculopathy.

The Sciatic nerve is the largest and longest in the body, and originates in the sacral plexus- a network of nerves in the lumbar spine. The sciatic nerve is responsible for transporting signals for movement and feeling in the thigh, foot, and toes. When the sciatic nerve is pinched by the damaged or herniated disc, it can result in an extremely painful sensation in the low back. Pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness occur at the site of the Sciatic nerve root and follow the path of the nerve down your lower back, buttocks, into the back of the thigh and leg.

If you feel a sensation of pain in your low back that radiates to the back of your thigh, you may be suffering from sciatica. The feeling can vary from a mild ache to an intense sharp, shooting pain, and moving the legs or affected area often intensifies the pain. Even small movements like coughing or sneezing can highlight the pain, and going from a sitting to standing position may be difficult. It is common to feel a sensation of “pins and needles”, numbness, or burning, which can last for weeks before subsiding. Typically, Sciatica pain affects only one side of the body.

The most common causes of sciatica are due to age related changes in the body, such as herniated disks and bone spurs. Obesity can play a major factor, causing increased stress in the spine that may trigger the condition. Prolonged sitting, heavy labor, and diabetes may also contribute to the development of this condition.

Treatment for sciatica depends largely on the root cause of the pain. Consulting with your spine specialist is important, as he/she can guide you in choosing the correct treatment option, to relieve the low back pain, and repair the underlying causes of Sciatica to prevent future flare-ups.

Tips for Preventing and Managing Low Back Pain at Home

  • Regular stretching and exercise can help prevent and ease low back pain.
  • When lifting heavy objects, use your legs for leverage, not your back.
  • Walk cautiously and wear shoes with good traction when walking on slippery surfaces.
  • When carrying something, be sure to distribute its weight evenly, not favoring one side.
  • Consult a spine specialist for severe low back pain that hasn’t resolved with conservative methods in a few weeks.

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