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Sciatica

If you suddenly start feeling pain in your lower back or hip that radiates to the back of your thigh and into your leg, you may have a protruding (herniated) disk in your spinal column that is pressing on the nerve roots in the lumbar spine. This condition is known as sciatica.

What is sciatica?

Sciatica (pronounced sigh-at-eh-kah)  is pain in the lower extremity resulting from irritation of the sciatic nerve. The pain of sciatica is typically felt from the low back (lumbar area) to behind the thigh and can radiate down below the knee. The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body and begins from nerve roots in the lumbar spinal cord in the low back and extends through the buttock area to send nerve endings down the lower limb. The pain of sciatica is sometimes referred to as sciatic nerve pain.

Symptoms

Sciatica may feel like a bad leg cramp, with pain that is sharp (“knife-like”), or electrical. The cramp can last for weeks before it goes away. You may have pain, especially when you move, sneeze, or cough. You may also have weakness, “pins and needles” numbness, or a burning or tingling sensation down your leg.

Sciatic pain can vary from infrequent and irritating to constant and incapacitating. Symptoms are usually based on the location of the pinched nerve.

Causes

Sciatica rarely occurs before age 20, and becomes more commonplace in middle age. It is most likely to develop around age 30 and 50.

Perhaps because the term sciatica is often used loosely to describe leg pain, estimates of its prevalence vary widely. Some researchers have estimated it will affect up to 43% of the population at some point.

Often, a particular event or injury does not cause sciatica—rather it tends to develop over time.

The vast majority of people who experience sciatica get better within a few weeks or months and find pain relief with nonsurgical sciatica treatment. For others, however, the leg pain from a pinched nerve can be severe and debilitating.

Seeing a doctor for sciatica pain is advised, both for learning how to reduce the pain and to check for the possibility of a serious medical issue.

While sciatica is most commonly a result of a lumbar disc herniation directly pressing on the nerve, any cause of irritation or inflammation of the sciatic nerve can produce the symptoms of sciatica. This irritation of nerves as a result of an abnormal intervertebral disc is referred to as radiculopathy. Approximately 1 in every 50 people will experience a herniated disk at some point in their life. Of these, 10% to 25% have symptoms that last more than 6 weeks. In rare cases, a herniated disk may press on nerves that cause you to lose control of your bladder or bowel, referred to as cauda equina syndrome. If this happens, you may also have numbness or tingling in your groin or genital area. This is an emergency situation that requires surgery. Phone your doctor immediately. Aside from a pinched nerve from a disc, other causes of sciatica include irritation of the nerve from adjacent bone, tumors, muscle, internal bleeding, infections in or around the lumbar spine, injury, and other causes. Sometimes sciatica can occur because of irritation of the sciatic nerve during pregnancy.

6 Most Common Causes of Sciatica

When discussing sciatica, it is important to understand the underlying medical cause, as effective treatment will focus on addressing the pain’s root cause as well as alleviating acute symptoms.

  • Lumbar herniated disc
    A herniated disc occurs when the soft inner material of the disc leaks out, or herniates, through the fibrous outer core and irritates or pinches the contiguous nerve root.

Other terms used to refer to a herniated disc are slipped disc, ruptured disc, bulging disc, protruding disc, or a pinched nerve. Sciatica is the most common symptom of a lumbar herniated disc.

  • Degenerative disc disease
    While some level of disc degeneration is a natural process that occurs with aging, for some people one or more degenerated discs in the lower back can also irritate a nerve root and cause sciatica.

Degenerative disc disease is diagnosed when a weakened disc results in excessive micro-motion at that spinal level, and inflammatory proteins from inside the disc become exposed and irritate the nerve root(s) in the area.

Bone spurs, which may develop with spinal degeneration, also may press against a nerve, resulting in sciatica.

  • Isthmic spondylolisthesis
    This condition occurs when a small stress fracture allows one vertebral body to slip forward on another; for example, if the L5 vertebra slips forward over the S1 vertebra.

With a combination of disc space collapse, the fracture, and the vertebral body

  • Lumbar spinal stenosis
    This condition commonly causes sciatica due to a narrowing of the spinal canal. Lumbar spinal stenosis is related to natural aging in the spine and is relatively common in adults older than age 60.

The condition typically results from a combination of one or more of the following: enlarged facet joints, overgrowth of soft tissue, and a bulging disc placing pressure on the nerve roots, causing sciatica pain.

Lumbar spinal stenosis commonly occurs along with spinal arthritis, and arthritis can also cause or contribute to sciatica symptoms.

  • Piriformis syndrome
    The sciatic nerve can get irritated as it runs under the piriformis muscle in the buttock. If the piriformis muscle irritates or pinches a nerve root that comprises the sciatic nerve, it can cause sciatica-type pain.

This is not a true lumbar radiculopathy, which is the clinical definition of sciatica. However, because the leg pain can feel the same as sciatica or radiculopathy, it is sometimes referred to as sciatica.

  • Sacroiliac joint dysfunction
    Irritation of the sacroiliac joint—located at the bottom of the spine—can also irritate the L5 nerve, which lies on top of the sacroiliac joint, causing sciatica-type pain.

Again, this is not a true radiculopathy, but the leg pain can feel the same as sciatica caused by a nerve irritation.

What are risk factors for sciatica? What are sciatica symptoms?

Risk factors for sciatica include degenerative arthritis of the lumbar spine, lumbar disc disease, and slipped disc, and trauma or injury to the lumbar spine.

Sciatica causes pain, a burning sensation, numbness, or tingling radiating from the lower back and upper buttock down the back of the thigh to the back of the leg. The result is lumbar painbuttock painhip pain, and leg pain. Sometimes the pain radiates around the hip or buttock to feel like hip pain. While sciatica is often associated with lower back pain (lumbago), it can be present without low back pain. Severe sciatica can make walking difficult if not impossible. Sometimes the symptoms of sciatica are aggravated by walking or bending at the waist and relieved by lying down. The pain relief by changing positions can be partial or complete.

When Sciatica Is Serious

Certain sciatica symptoms, while rare, require immediate medical, and possibly surgical, intervention. These include, but are not limited to, progressive neurological symptoms (e.g. leg weakness) and/or bowel or bladder dysfunction (cauda equina syndrome). Infection or spinal tumors can also cause sciatica.

Because sciatica is caused by an underlying medical condition, treatment is focused on addressing the cause of symptoms rather than just the symptoms. Treatment is usually self-care and/or nonsurgical, but for severe or intractable pain and dysfunction it may be advisable to consider surgery.

How do health-care professionals diagnose sciatica?

Diagnosis begins with a complete patient history. Your doctor will ask you to explain how your pain started, where it travels, and exactly what it feels like.

A physical examination may help pinpoint the irritated nerve root. Your doctor may ask you to squat and rise, walk on your heels and toes, or perform a straight-leg raising test or other tests.

X-rays and other specialized imaging tools, such as a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, may confirm your doctor’s diagnosis of which nerve roots are affected.

Nonsurgical Treatment

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.

Surgical Treatment

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 disk 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.

Rehabilitation

Your doctor may give you exercises to strengthen your back. It is important to walk and move while limiting too much bending or twisting. It is acceptable to perform routine activities around the house, such as cooking and cleaning.

Following treatment for sciatica, you will probably be able to resume your normal lifestyle and keep your pain under control. However, it is always possible for your disk to rupture again.

Physical Therapy and Exercise for Sciatica

Physical therapy exercises incorporating a combination of strengthening, stretching, and aerobic conditioning are a central component of almost any sciatica treatment plan.

When patients engage in a regular program of gentle exercises, they can recover more quickly from sciatica pain and are less likely to have future episodes of pain.

Sciatica exercises usually focus on three key areas: strengthening, stretching, and aerobic conditioning.

  • Strengthening exercises
    Many exercises can help strengthen the spinal column and the supporting muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Most of these back exercises focus not only on the lower back, but also the abdominal (stomach) muscles and gluteus (buttock) and hip muscles.

Strong core muscles can provide pain relief because they support the spine, keeping it in alignment and facilitating movements that extend or twist the spine with less chance of injury or damage.

  • Stretching exercises
    Stretching is usually recommended to alleviate sciatic pain. Stretches for sciatica are designed to target muscles that cause pain when they are tight and inflexible.

Hamstring stretching is almost always an important part of a sciatica exercise program. Most people do not stretch these muscles, which extend from the pelvis to the knee in the back of the thigh, in their daily activities.

Another stretch that is often helpful in easing sciatica is the Bird Dog move: After getting on their hands and knees, individuals extend one arm and the opposite leg. The arm and leg extensions are then alternated. A more advanced version of this exercise is the Plank Bird Dog move, in which the extensions are done once the person is in the plank position on their hands and toes.

  • Low-impact aerobic exercise
    Some form of low-impact cardiovascular exercise, such as walking, swimming, or pool therapy is usually a component of recovery, as aerobic activity encourages the exchange of fluids and nutrients to help create a better healing environment.

Aerobic conditioning also has the unique benefit of releasing endorphins, the body’s natural pain killers, which helps reduce sciatic pain.

These types of exercise may be done separately or in combination. Examples of types of exercise that may include both strengthening and stretching include yogatai chi, and Pilates.

For anyone in chronic pain or with a relatively high level of sciatica pain, one option for gentle exercise is water therapy, which is a controlled, progressive exercise program done in a warm pool.

When sciatica pain is at its most severe, patients may find the pain hard to bear and may need to rest for a day or two. However, resting for more than one or two days is generally not advised, as prolonged rest or inactivity can increase pain and will lead to deconditioning. Regular movement is important to provide healing nutrients to the injured structures that are causing the pain.

If you are experiencing back or neck pain the experts at TOCA are here to help! Call our dedicated team to schedule your consultation today at: 602-277-6211!

#Recovery #Results #Relief #MyOrthoDoc #TOCA #TOCAMD #backpain

What is Spinal Stenosis & How do I treat it?

What Is Spinal Stenosis?

Spinal stenosis is a condition, mostly in adults 50 and older, in which your spinal canal starts to narrow. This can cause pain and other problems.

Your spine is made up of a series of connected bones (or “vertebrae”) and shock-absorbing discs. It protects your spinal cord, a key part of the central nervous system that connects the brain to the body. The cord rests in the canal formed by your vertebrae.

For most people, the stenosis results from changes because of arthritis. The spinal canal may narrow. The open spaces between the vertebrae may start to get smaller. The tightness can pinch the spinal cord or the nerves around it, causing pain, tingling, or numbness in your legs, arms, or torso.

There’s no cure, but there are a variety of nonsurgical treatments and exercises to keep the pain at bay. Most people with spinal stenosis live normal lives.

 

Healthy Spine

The spinal canal has a rounded triangular shape that holds the nerve roots without pinching. Nerve roots leave the spinal canal through openings called nerve root canals which are also free of obstruction.

Affected Spine

New bone growth within the spinal canal causes compression of nerve roots, which leads to the pain of spinal stenosis.

 

Causes

The leading reason for spinal stenosis is arthritis, a condition caused by the breakdown of cartilage — the cushiony material between your bones — and the growth of bone tissue.

Osteoarthritis can lead to disc changes, a thickening of the ligaments of the spine, and bone spurs. This can put pressure on your spinal cord and spinal nerves.

Other causes include:

  • Herniated discs. If the cushions are cracked, material can seep out and press on your spinal cord or nerves.
  • Injuries. An accident may fracture or inflame part of your spine.
  • Tumors. If cancerous growths touch the spinal cord, you may get stenosis.
  • Paget’s disease. With this condition, your bones grow abnormally large and brittle. The result is a narrowing of the spinal canal and nerve problems.
  • Overgrowth of bone. Wear and tear damage from osteoarthritis on your spinal bones can prompt the formation of bone spurs, which can grow into the spinal canal. Paget’s disease, a bone disease that usually affects adults, also can cause bone overgrowth in the spine.
  • Thickened Ligaments. The tough cords that help hold the bones of your spine together can become stiff and thickened over time. These thickened ligaments can bulge into the spinal canal.

Some people are born with spinal stenosis or diseases that lead to it. For them, the condition usually starts to cause problems between the ages of 30 and 50.

Symptoms

Spinal stenosis usually affects your neck or lower back. Not everyone has symptoms, but if you do, they tend to be the same: stiffness, numbness, and back pain.

When symptoms do occur, they often start gradually and worsen over time. Symptoms vary, depending on the location of the stenosis:

  • In the neck (cervical spine).Cervical stenosis can cause numbness, weakness or tingling in a leg, foot, arm or hand. Tingling in the hand is the most common symptom, and many people also report problems with walking and balance. Nerves to the bladder or bowel may be affected, leading to incontinence.
  • In the lower back (lumbar spine).Compressed nerves in your lumbar spine can cause pain or cramping in your legs when you stand for long periods of time or when you walk. The discomfort usually eases when you bend forward or sit down.

 

More specific symptoms include:

  • Sciatica. These shooting pains down your leg start as an ache in the lower back or buttocks.
  • Foot drop. Painful leg weakness may cause you to “slap” your foot on the ground.
  • A hard time standing or walking. When you’re upright, it tends to compress the vertebrae, causing pain.
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control. In extreme cases, it weakens the nerves to the bladder or bowel.

If you’re having symptoms, you might want to talk them over with your doctor. If you’re having a loss of bladder or bowel control, call your doctor at once.

Diagnosis and Tests

When you visit your doctor, she’s likely to ask you questions about your medical history. After that, she might order at least one of the following tests to figure out whether you have the condition:

  • X-rays. These can show how the shape of your vertebrae has changed.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). By using radio waves, an MRI creates a 3-D image of your spine. It can show tumors, growths, and even damage to discs and ligaments.
  • Computerized tomography (CT scan). A CT scan uses X-rays to create a 3-D image. With the help of a dye injected into your body, it can show damage to soft tissue as well as issues with your bones.

Treatment

Your doctor may start off with nonsurgical treatments. These might include:

Medication: Common pain remedies such as aspirinacetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and naproxen can offer short-term relief. All are available in low doses without a prescription. Other medications, including muscle relaxants and anti-seizure medications, treat aspects of spinal stenosis, such as muscle spasms and damaged nerves.

Corticosteroid injections: Your doctor will inject a steroid such as prednisone into your back or neck. Steroids make inflammation go down. However, because of side effects, they are used sparingly.

Anesthetics: Used with precision, an injection of a “nerve block” can stop pain for a time.

Exercise: You can improve your flexibility, strength, and balance with regular activity. Your doctor may recommend a physical therapist to help you.

Assistive devices: You might get braces, a corset, or a walker to help you move about.

Surgery

Some people have severe cases. They struggle to walk or have issues with their bladder and bowel. Doctors may recommend surgery for these people. Procedures such as laminectomy and laminoplasty create space between the bones so inflammation can go down.

Surgery carries its own risks. You should have a talk with your doctor about how much it can help, recovery time, and more before taking that step.

Many patients also try nontraditional therapies, including chiropractic and acupuncture. Again, be sure your doctor knows if you’re trying a nontraditional approach.

What You Can Do at Home

Some things you can do to help ease symptoms of spinal stenosis include:

  • Exercise. Think about moderation — not 100 push-ups. Just take a 30-minute walk every other day. Talk over any new exercise plan with your doctor.
  • Apply heat and cold. Heat loosens up your muscles. Cold helps heal inflammation. Use one or the other on your neck or lower back. Hot showers are also good.
  • Practice good posture. Stand up straight, sit on a supportive chair, and sleep on a firm mattress. And when you lift heavy objects, bend from your knees, not your back.
  • Lose weight. When you are heavier, there will be more pressure on your back.

 

If you are experiencing back or neck pain the experts at TOCA are here to help! Call our dedicated team to schedule your consultation today at: 602-277-6211!

#Recovery #Results #Relief #MyOrthoDoc #TOCA #TOCAMD