Your rib cage is the place where your ribs join each other. This is where you feel this kind of pain.
Sciatica is a medical term for this kind of pain felt in your lower back (lumbar area), buttocks, and sometimes thigh or leg. Sciatica is also referred to as lumbar radiculopathy.
Sciatic nerve pain is often caused by a pinched nerve. It is usually caused by a herniated disk or an injury to the spine. But it can also be caused by a bulging or herniated spinal disk.
The sciatic nerve runs down your back from your spine. It goes through your buttocks and legs.
Sciatica can feel like a dull pain that radiates from your spine.
Sciatica is usually caused by a pinched nerve, but it can also be caused by a bulging or herniated disk.
What causes sciatica pain?
You may feel sciatic pain when any part of your spine that has been injured or has some kind of disk issue.
Anything that compresses your neural tissues can cause sciatic pain. You may feel this way after a car accident or a fall.
Some other things that can cause sciatica are:
- Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the space between the bones of the spine)
- A herniated disk
- Damaged or worn-out disks in your spine
- Spinal fractures
- Bone spurs
- Osteophytes (bony projections)
Your symptoms may come and go. It can last for days or sometimes weeks.
You may experience these symptoms:
- Numbness, tingling, or weakness
- Burning pain
- Aching, dull pain
- Leg pain that spreads down the back or buttocks
- Leg pain that comes and goes
Sciatica may cause these symptoms:
- Sharp, shooting pain
- Pain that radiates down the leg and into the calf
- Pain that gets worse with activity
- Pain that gets better with rest
Sciatica pain can be worse when you first wake up. In rare cases, it may worsen when you’re in bed, which is called acute pain.
When to see a doctor?
You may have sciatic pain for a few reasons.
It could be a sign of a pinched nerve, which is usually caused by a herniated disk or a bulging or herniated disk.
You should see your doctor if you’re experiencing these symptoms:
- There is a sudden onset of severe pain in your back that spreads to your buttocks.
- There is a sudden onset of pain in your lower back that gets worse during the day.
- You have other symptoms of a pinched nerve.
- You don’t have a herniated disk.
- You have other symptoms of a herniated disk.
How is sciatica diagnosed?
Your doctor will first do a physical exam to determine whether you have sciatica.
Your doctor will also ask about your symptoms and when you first noticed them.
Your doctor may also order the following tests:
Physical exam. Your doctor will check your lower back and buttocks for numbness, muscle weakness, and leg pain. They may press on your back and test your leg reflexes.
MRI or CT scan. Your doctor will use an MRI or CT scan to look at your spine.
How is sciatica treated?
Treatment depends on the cause.
If you have a herniated disk, your doctor may recommend a lumbar laminectomy. In this procedure, your surgeon makes an incision above the herniated disk. Then they remove the disk.
For a bulging disk, your doctor may recommend physical therapy. They may also suggest taking medication at home.
For a pinched nerve, your doctor may suggest an epidural steroid injection. Then they may suggest physical therapy.
Your doctor may also suggest that you try a pain reliever, such as over-the-counter (OTC) medication.
Your doctor will have you try these exercises:
- Back extensor stretch
- Leg tuck
- Hip flexion
Your doctor may also suggest pain-relieving medication.
What is the outlook for sciatica?
Treatment is important for sciatica. The earlier you start treatment, the better. You’ll also get better faster if you get treatment as soon as possible.
Your doctor may prescribe medication and physical therapy. You should also take OTC pain relievers.
They may also recommend that you take medication to reduce the pain at night and at bedtime.
If you have a bulging or herniated disk, don’t rest for more than three to four weeks.
Your pain should start to go away in a few weeks.
If you have a pinched nerve, your doctor may prescribe medication. In some cases, they may also recommend physical therapy.
You may also find relief with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
You may need to have an MRI or CT scan to check for other possible causes of your pain.
If there is no other cause, your doctor can usually treat your pain.
What is the difference between a herniated disk and sciatica?
Sciatica and herniated disk are two different conditions.
A herniated disk occurs when part of the disk bulges out through your bony cushion (vertebral arch). It can press on your spinal cord and nerve roots.
A bulging disk happens when part of the disk bulges out through the bony cushion.
Your doctor can tell them apart.
Sciatica is often caused by a pinched nerve.
A pinched nerve happens when one of your spinal nerves becomes compressed. The sciatic nerve is the nerve that runs from your lower back through your buttock.
It can become compressed when the disk bulges.
A herniated disk happens when there’s a small tear in part of the disk. The disk pushes out and bulges through the bony cushion.
Herniated disks are often caused by osteoarthritis. They are very common.
Sciatica is caused by a pinched nerve, which can be caused by a herniated disk, a bulging disk, or a pinched nerve.
The sooner you start treatment, the better your outcome. Your doctor can usually treat a pinched nerve.
They may prescribe medication, physical therapy, and pain-relieving medication.
If other treatment doesn’t work, your doctor can perform a laminectomy to remove the disk.
Your doctor can also perform an epidural steroid injection. This is a corticosteroid in the epidural space, which is the space around your spinal cord.
The corticosteroid helps reduce swelling and inflammation.
Your doctor can perform a laminectomy. In this procedure, your surgeon will make an incision above the herniated disk. Then they remove the disk.
For a bulging disk, your doctor can prescribe physical therapy. They may also suggest taking medication at home.
Your doctor can also treat you for a pinched nerve with an epidural steroid injection. Your doctor can prescribe medication.
The type of medication you take depends on your symptoms and the cause.
What you can do?
It’s important to take OTC pain relievers whenever you have sciatica.
You can also try these exercises:
- Back extensor stretching
- Hip flexor extension
The sooner you start treatment, the better your outcome. The earlier your symptoms start to go away, the better your outcome.
You can also try these home remedies:
- Heat and ice. Heat and ice can reduce inflammation and swelling.
- Rest. The sooner you rest, the better you’ll feel.
- Stretching. Stretching helps relieve sciatica.
- Anti-inflammatory medications. Some nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help reduce inflammation.
- Physical therapy. In physical therapy, you can learn exercises that help relieve pain and improve function.
- Heat and cold. Heat and cold can help relieve pain.
- Acupuncture. Acupuncture may help relieve pain.
- Massage. Massage may help reduce inflammation.
- Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers. NSAIDs can help reduce pain.
- Biofeedback. Biofeedback may help reduce pain.
- Meditation. Meditation can help reduce pain.
- Yoga. Yoga may help reduce pain.
What’s the outlook for sciatica?
The sooner you start treatment, the better your outcome. The sooner your symptoms start to go away, the better your outcome.
Your outlook will depend on the cause of your symptoms.
For example, if your symptoms are caused by a pinched nerve, you’ll need to take an epidural steroid in the spine.
Treating a herniated disk usually doesn’t require surgery.
How can you prevent sciatica?
The best way to prevent sciatica is to avoid making your symptoms worse.
You can do this by:
- Getting regular exercise
- Stretching and strengthening exercises
- Not lifting heavy objects
- Eating a healthy diet
- Getting enough sleep
- Watching what you do with your feet
- Avoiding activities that cause you pain
- Taking OTC pain relievers
- Using a heating pad
- Using a cold pack
You can also prevent sciatica by staying active.
You can also reduce your risk of getting a pinched nerve by stretching and strengthening your muscles.
Sciatica is a common condition. It can be caused by a pinched nerve, a herniated disk, or a bulging disk.
Treatment is important. The sooner you start treatment, the better your outcome. The earlier your symptoms start to go away, the better your outcome.
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