Sciatica Can Place a lot of Pressure on You
By Marie Look
Someone experiencing pain in the lower body, such as the hips or legs, may first guess that there’s a problem with one of his or her muscles, tendons or joints. But nerve pain can also be to blame. According to a paper in a 2005 edition of the Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine, more than 5 percent of adults in the United States were estimated to suffer from sciatica, a term used to describe pain that follows the path of the sciatic nerve, which extends from the low back through the hips, buttocks and down each leg. The paper’s authors also estimated that over a person’s lifetime, his or her chances of experiencing sciatica are as high as 40 percent. Let’s take a look at what, exactly, causes sciatica, and who may be at risk.
What’s Behind the Pain in Your Behind
Sciatica is the result of pressure placed on the sciatic nerve. Herniated vertebral discs, bone spurs (overgrowth or malformation of a bone) and tumors are all conditions which commonly “pinch” the sciatic nerve, leading to pain, inflammation and perhaps even numbness in a person’s low back, hip, buttock and the back of the thigh and calf. Usually sciatica affects just one side of the body. Individuals affected by sciatica have described the discomfort as ranging from mild pain, tingling or numbness to excruciating, sharp pain that shoots through the lower body. Sitting for long periods generally aggravates or intensifies the symptoms.
Who is Most Likely to Be Affected
Sciatica can affect anyone, but there are factors that put people at a higher risk. Individuals who carry a lot of weight or frequently twist or rotate might be be at risk of developing sciatica. Conversely, people who don’t move much at all, such as those who sit for hours at a time or who are otherwise sedentary for a good part of the day, are also at risk. Finding the middle ground between these two lifestyles, then, is key. A person’s age and weight also play roles. As we age, the spine becomes more susceptible to certain changes, which can cause herniated discs, bone spurs and other problems. Excess body weight can also cause or accelerate changes in the structure of the vertebral column, plus place enormous stress on the spine, and result in pinched nerves, including the sciatic nerve. Sometimes sciatica develops along with another condition, for example, diabetes, which negatively affects nerve fibers in the body. The American Diabetes Association reported in 2011 that 25.8 million adults and children in the U.S. (or 8.3 percent of the population) have diabetes. The ADA estimated that 7 million of those individuals were undiagnosed. The organization also reported that a staggering 79 million Americans were estimated to be affected by prediabetes.
With diabetes, the body cannot effectively process or regulate blood sugar, sometimes leading to an excess of sugar in the bloodstream. This buildup of sugar attacks the nerves in the body, usually starting with the smaller ones in the extremities and then gradually affecting larger nerves closer to the central nervous system. Diabetics who develop sciatica usually report numbness and weakness in the feet or lower legs, but the symptoms will become progressively worse if untreated.
In a Fix
Physicians usually diagnose sciatica using a combination of physical examinations and imaging tests likes CT (computerized tomography) scans, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and X-rays, depending on the severity of a patient’s symptoms. The Mayo Clinic reports that most cases of sciatica respond well to treatment and the pressure on the sciatic nerve resolves itself in fewer than six weeks. However, for those who continue to experience discomfort, more aggressive treatment, such as surgery, may be required.
Whether you have already been diagnosed with sciatica or not, contact your doctor immediately if you feel any sudden or sharp pain in your lower back, hips, buttocks or leg, or if you experience weakness or numbness, or have difficulty controlling your bowels or bladder.