FAQ’s on Sciatica and Radiculopathy

What are Sciatica and Radiculopathy?

The sciatic nerves are located in the buttocks of a patient, and provide sensation from the tail end of the spine to the surrounding tissue. If the sciatic nerves become irritated, inflamed, or compressed, it may cause Pain in the lumbar region of the spine, in the legs, or in the buttocks. These collective symptoms of pain are called sciatica, switching to the title of lumbar radiculopathy when clinically diagnosed. Diagnosis of sciatica into full radiculopathy will come at the discretion of our physician.

What causes Sciatica and Radiculopathy?

Radiculopathy is the result of one or more of compression on one or more of the spinal nerves. Compression can occur on the nerves of the lumbar (lower) spine, the sacral spine (tailbone) or on the sciatic nerves. One of the most common causes of compression occurs from an intervertebral disc becoming either herniated or bulged, such as with discs suffering from degenerative disc disease.

Other potential causes of pressure on the nerves include spinal injury, arthritic inflammation, and spinal stenosis. In very rare cases, pressure on the nerves will be the result of one or more tumors growing in the spine.

The symptoms of Sciatica and Radiculopathy

The majority of patients experience sciatica and radiculopathy symptoms as a sensation of pain localized in the buttocks that spreads down the legs in a stabbing or jolting manner. The condition may feel very similar to having the buttocks punctured, with a worsening of pain if the patient sits. Depending on which nerves are compressed on the spine, there may be a feeling of weakness or numbing in the lower extremities.

It is common for symptoms to be felt on only one side of the body if only those nerves are compressed. Patients may also experience a worsening of symptoms with movement of the spine, or sudden jarring of the body such as with coughing or sneezing. If abdominal nerves are affected, inconsistencies in the bladder or stomach may develop.

How are Sciatica and Radiculopathy diagnosed?

The method of diagnosis for the sciatica symptoms will differ based on what symptoms are being exhibited and where these symptoms are located. Each level of the spine that sciatica can occur on will produce different symptoms for the patient, which can assist the physician in determining the probable cause and in choosing an accurate diagnostic method. Diagnosis is achieved through a combination of the patients’ medical history, physical evaluation, neurological testing, and imaging techniques.

If the physician decides that there is likely a compressed nerve, an MRI will be used to examine the tissue of the spine in search for it. Common X-rays will be able to locate any potential bone damage that could be causing inflammation or directly pressuring the nerve. For some patients, diagnostic nerves blocks will be used to test if a nerve is the root cause of pain or not. These blocks are the injection of a small amount of anesthetic into the nerve to see if the pain stops.

Treatment options for Sciatica and Radiculopathy

The exact treatment methods used by our physicians will vary based uponwhat symptoms there are and the location of them. One of the largest factors in what treatment will be used is the age of the patient coupled with what treatments have been used previously. It is normal for the symptoms of Pain to be treated first with medication while the physician determines what the root cause of pain is.

If a diagnostic block provides some degree of relief, it may be that the nerve was the root cause of pain and that further anesthetic injected into it may provide extended relief for the patient. Patients suffering from a damaged spinal disc may see their symptoms fade with time. Some may require surgery to remove the disc to achieve relief.