Sciatica is a painful and debilitating condition involving pinched nerves that go from the low back into the hips, buttocks, or legs. The pain can be so severe that it is often life altering.
Dr. Currie has treated many failed back surgery patients. He has seen severe and extreme cases in which the patient used the word “paralysis” of their leg. With chronic sciatica, the nerves can become permanently damaged and cause loss of function in one or both legs.
What causes sciatica?
Many times, sciatica is a result of degenerative disc disease in the low back. When the disc (cushion between the bones in the spine) breaks down, the material can push out into the nerves and entrap them. The nerve entrapment causes the nerve to become irritated and experience debilitating pain. Degenerative disc disease is also called osteoarthritis of the spine. Radiological findings consistent with degenerative disc disease are: herniated or bulging discs, desiccated discs, spinal stenosis, foraminal stenosis, annular tears, facet joint hypertrophy, extruding disc material, thecal sac indentation, anterolisthesis, retrolisthesis, spondylosis, ligamentum flavum hypertrophy, and loss of height with aging.
What are the symptoms to watch for if you think you have sciatica?
Many people describe their sciatica pain as pain in the buttock/hip region. As the condition progresses, the pain can move into the side or back of the leg (hamstring) and eventually into the calf or foot. Some patients describe their sciatica as a cramping (like Charlie horses) feeling in the muscles. Many patients describe their pain as a deep pain that felt as if it were inside of their bones. Others will say that they have pain that feels like it shoots out of their big toe (or the two toes next to it). Some will say that it is their 5th toe (pinky toe), but it is more common in the “big toe” side of the foot. Still yet, some patients will have pain into the top or bottom of their feet. Other patients don’t have “classic” sciatica pain referral patterns. Some of those patients can have symptoms that radiate from the low back around into the lower abdomen or groin and in men, the testicles.
It is important to understand that sciatica is “referred” pain from the low back region. Many sciatica patients have no low back pain at all. However, a “pinched” nerve in the low back is usually the culprit. Another important point is that “sciatica” can be different for every single person who experiences this painful condition. The term sciatica is basically a “catch all” term that describes nerve related pain that is in the buttock, hip, or leg.
Can sciatica present along with other problems, such as back pain?
Sciatica is often accompanied by low back pain, but it isn’t always the case. Some patients can have sciatica or hip pain that is being referred out of the low back but have no low back pain at all. Dr. Currie has treated many patients after they had failed hip replacement surgery which they hoped would relieve their sciatica. After the hip replacement the pain was still radiating into their buttock, hamstring or calf. Their doctors told them that the pain must be coming from their low back and that’s when they went to see Dr. Currie and got relief.