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Sciatica definition

The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body, spanning from the base of the spine down through each of the legs. Sciatica refers to the series of symptoms that can occur when this particular nerve becomes compressed.

Diagnosing sciatica

A doctor can often provide a diagnosis by completing a range of motion exam, reviewing your medical history and asking you questions about the symptoms you’re experiencing. This set of symptoms does not typically require medical imaging to diagnose; however, a doctor may request an X-ray or MRI test to identify an underlying condition that is causing the nerve compression.

Causes of sciatica

There are numerous spinal conditions that can affect the lower back and result in compression of the sciatic nerve. Some of the most common causes of sciatica include:

  • A herniated disc
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Pelvic fracture or injury
  • Spinal narrowing (stenosis)
  • Spondylolisthesis
  • Piriformis syndrome

Each of these conditions can result in changes in the spine that cause the sciatic nerve to become irritated or inflamed.

Sciatica symptoms

Symptoms of sciatica will appear in the lower body along the pathway of the sciatic nerve, affecting either one side or both sides of the body. Symptoms may include:

  • Muscle weakness
  • A dull or shooting pain
  • Numbness
  • Slowed reflexes
  • Tingling
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control (in severe cases)

When any of these symptoms appear and persist in the hip, leg or foot area, it’s important to consult a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

Treatment for sciatica

Conservative treatments aim to alleviate the pain and other symptoms of sciatica regardless of the underlying cause of the condition. Your doctor may recommend nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), a prescription pain medication, steroid injections, hot and cold therapy or physical therapy as a starting point. In many cases, one or more of these options will provide sufficient relief.

Minimally invasive surgery

If, after several weeks or months of conservative treatments, symptoms do not diminish, your doctor may suggest surgery as your next step. At Laser Spine Institute Philadelphia, we specialize in minimally invasive spine surgery that helps patients find relief from their neck and back pain. Compared with traditional open neck and back surgery, our minimally invasive procedures:

  • Require a smaller incision
  • Spare more surrounding muscle and tissue
  • Are offered as outpatient procedures
  • Typically involve a shorter recovery time^

If you’ve been diagnosed with sciatica and are interested in the minimally invasive options available at Laser Spine Institute, contact us today for a no-cost MRI review* to find out if you may be a candidate for one of our procedures.