If you’re living with the radiating, shooting pain that originates in the hip or low back and sends lightning bolts through the buttocks and down the back of the thigh, you may ask this question often. Why did I get this? Even when sciatica is mild, it can be immensely frustrating. When the pain is severe, the condition can be debilitating. When most people hear the term sciatica, they think of it as a condition in and of itself. It’s not. Sciatica is a symptom. It is a type of pain that is signaling to an underlying spinal condition that is irritating a nerve exiting one of the segments of the lumbar spine in the low back. The good news about sciatica is that, once we know the cause, we can develop the right treatment to restore comfort and quality of life.
Here, we discuss the five most common causes of sciatica.
- Herniated Disc. In between every set of bony vertebra is a soft disc made of cartilage. The discs are natural shock absorbers and also space-makers. They maintain the proper distance between two bones so the spinal nerves can exit the spinal column uninterrupted. A disc that is herniated is one that has begun to protrude. This usually occurs in an inward direction, which means the disc may eventually press against the spinal nerve that travels down the leg.
- Osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is a relatively common condition that involves the natural breakdown of cartilage and bone due to wear and tear on the body. In the spinal column, it is the facet joints that can develop osteoarthritis. When one or more of these joints gets inflamed and irritated, the surrounding nerves do, as well. More severe osteoarthritis may involve the formation of bone spurs that compress nerve roots.
- Spinal Stenosis. This condition involves the narrowing of the spinal canal. When the canal loses space, nerve roots may become irritated by pressure. This can result in pain like sciatica.
- Spondylolisthesis. The vertebrae that make up the spine sit in a particular position one atop another with some space in between for the nerve roots to exit. If a vertebra shifts backward, forward, or over an adjacent bone, we call it spondylolisthesis. This condition may result from an injury or birth defect and should be treated so the nerve root is not compressed for a prolonged period.
- Muscle spasms. In the best-case scenario, sciatica may be caused by irritation in a muscle around the lumbar spine. The spasm may compress the nerve or branches from the main nerve off the spinal cord, resulting in pain and other sciatica symptoms.
Sciatica can be a chronic problem. It doesn’t have to be. Contact Orthopedic Associates of Long Island today at 631.689.6698 to schedule a consultation at a location near you.