4 Common Causes of Sciatica

The sciatic nerve is the large nerve that runs from the lower back down the back of the thighs and calves. The nerve is very important because it innervates many important muscle groups and helps control movements in the legs.

Sciatica is a common term that describes sciatic nerve inflammation or irritation and the resulting sharp, shooting, burning pain. Although many are familiar with the term itself, sciatica can have several different causes and finding the cause of sciatica is the first step toward symptom relief.

At Olympia Orthopaedic Associates, our team of Board Certified and Fellowship Trained Spine Specialists are experts in diagnosing the underlying cause of sciatica and developing customized treatments plans to help get you back to Your Life in Motion.

Four of the most common causes of sciatica are below:

Common Cause #1: A Herniated Disc

Between each vertebrae in the spine is a flexible disc that helps cushion the daily forces applied to the spine.  If these discs become worn out over time or damaged due to a sudden injury, they can change shape and begin to press onto the nerves in the spine.  This impingement on the spinal nerve is what causes the symptoms associated with sciatica.

Common Cause #2: Lumbar Spinal Stenosis

The lumbar spinal canal is a narrow canal that protects the spinal cord and allows it to branch out and innervate muscles and organs. Over time, due to injury or arthritis of the spine, the canal can begin to narrow and this is known as lumbar spinal stenosis. As the spinal canal narrows, nerves within the spine can become impinged or irritated. The impingement of these nerves is what causes sciatic pain.

Common Cause #3: Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative disc disease is a chronic condition that causes the lumbar intervertebral discs to lose water and shrink.  Typically, this loss of fluid and shape is part of the aging process, or less frequently by genetic conditions, repetitive damage to the spinal discs or prior injuries in the lower back.  As the discs wear out the lumbar spine anatomy changes and the sciatic nerve can be compressed and cause sciatica.

Common Cause #4: Spondylolisthesis

Spondylolisthesis occurs when a lumbar vertebra slips backward, forwards, or over the vertebra below it. In most cases, spondylolisthesis is caused by a fracture or weakening of the vertebral ligaments. As the vertebrae move outside of its normal position in the spine it can compress the sciatic nerve and result in sciatica.

Sciatica Diagnosis and Treatment at Olympia Orthopaedic Associates

At Olympia Orthopaedic Associates, our Spine Specialists have helped thousands of patients suffering from sciatica.  During an appointment with one of our Spine Specialists, symptom history review, physical examination, and imaging studies help make a formal diagnosis and determine the severity of the condition causing sciatica.

Multiple nonsurgical treatment options are often used to effectively relieve sciatica as quickly as possible and include:

  • Activity modification
  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Physical therapy

Epidural steroid injections may be used if sciatica does not respond to nonsurgical treatment options. The overwhelming majority of sciatica cases are effectively treated with nonsurgical treatment and surgery is rarely necessary.

Making an Appointment at Olympia Orthopaedic Associates

Sciatica is best treated when it is diagnosed early and treatment options can be more effective in the early stages of sciatica. Please contact our offices throughout Olympia and schedule an appointment with one of our Board Certified and Fellowship Trained Spine Specialists as soon as you experience sciatica symptoms.

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