Sciatica is the term used to describe a set of symptoms that include pain, numbness, tingling, and/or burning that travels from the low back, down the buttock, and down the back of the thigh and leg, sometimes extending into the foot. There can be weakness in the leg or foot as well.
Sciatica is most commonly caused by the compression of a nerve in the lumbar spine by a disc herniation. It most commonly affects only one side. Diabetes is a common cause of peripheral neuropathy.
Less commonly, stenosis or narrowing of the spinal canal can cause sciatica. Other causes of leg pain, numbness, tingling, burning, and weakness include peripheral neuropathy, vascular disease, and piriformis syndrome.
The condition usually heals itself, given sufficient time and rest. Approximately 80% to 90% of patients with sciatica get better over time without surgery, typically within several weeks.
Nonsurgical treatment is aimed at helping you manage your pain without long-term use of medications.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, aspirin, or muscle relaxants may also help.
In addition, you may find it soothing to put gentle heat or cold on your painful muscles. It is important that you continue to move. Do not remain in bed, as too much rest may cause other parts of the body to feel discomfort.
Find positions that are comfortable, but be as active as possible. Motion helps to reduce inflammation. Most of the time, your condition will get better within a few weeks.
Sometimes, your doctor may inject your spinal area with a cortisone-like drug.
As soon as possible, start stretching exercises so you can resume your physical activities without sciatica pain. Your doctor may want you to take short walks and may prescribe physical therapy.
You might need surgery if you still have disabling leg pain after 3 months or more of nonsurgical treatment. A part of your surgery, your herniated disc may be removed to stop it from pressing on your nerve.
The surgery (laminotomy with discectomy) may be done under local, spinal, or general anesthesia. This surgery is usually very successful at relieving pain, particularly if most of the pain is in your leg.