South Florida Orthopedics Explained: What is Sciatica?

Did you know the sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in your body? It is comprised of individual nerve roots from the low back which combine like a telephone cable to allow the nerves to exit the pelvis and go down into the legs. Sciatica most commonly occurs when one of these nerve roots becomes irritated and swollen, leading to irritation of the entire sciatic nerve. The most common culprit is a protruding or herniated disc.

Discs are similar to jelly donuts with a softer center that can push through the tougher outer shell and press on a nerve root, usually on one side only.  The symptoms can radiate from the low back into the buttock and thigh, but may go all the way into the foot. Patients may experience burning pain, tingling, numbness or muscle weakness. The pain may vary in intensity from a dull ache to sharp, excruciating pain that can make sitting, standing or walking unbearable.

Younger patients tend to experience a more acute onset of symptoms since the center of their discs are better hydrated than in older patients. Basically, their “donuts” are fresher with jelly that hasn’t yet dried out. Hence, it is more likely to “squirt out” and cause problems. On the other hand, older patients often experience sciatica which may have a more gradual onset caused by arthritic spurs irritating the nerve roots.

Either way, conservative treatment is usually successful. Anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, and temporary activity modification can help reduce inflammation to resolve the symptoms. Epidural injections may be helpful after X-ray and/or MRI evaluation. If these measures fail, surgery is an option to relieve severe sciatica caused by nerve compression.

For more information about sciatica symptoms and the best methods to address its causes and relieve symptoms, call the South Florida orthopaedic experts at Fort Lauderdale Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine at (954) 400-5544. We are here to evaluate your symptoms, diagnose the underlying cause and recommend treatment to help you get your life back to normal.


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