12-01-2021

Sciatica: duration, causes and treatments

Sciatica refers to pain that radiates from the sciatic nerve to the lower back, buttocks, and legs. This pain is a fairly common, and in most cases, it can be remedied without the need for surgery. In this article, we explain how long sciatica usually lasts, what causes it, and how it can be treated.

As its name suggests, sciatica affects the sciatic nerve, which is made up of the nerve roots of the L5 and S1 vertebrae. Symptoms of sciatica can range from mild pain to sharp pain in the lower back and back of the leg, and in the most severe cases, it can cause numbness or muscle weakness in the affected leg or foot. In general, it affects only one side of the body.

Duration of sciatica

If you suffer from sciatica, you have probably asked yourself how long the pain will last. In most cases, it usually subsides after a few weeks with conservative treatments and with no need for surgical intervention. However, it varies from case to case, and there is no single answer.

For this reason, if the pain doesn’t go away, or if gets progressively worse, it’s important to consult a specialist so that they can evaluate your case and choose the most appropriate treatment, which, in some cases, may be surgery. And it goes without saying that if your pain appears immediately after an accident, you should consult a specialist without delay.

Causes of sciatica

The primary cause of sciatic pain is a pinched sciatic nerve. This can often happen as a result of one of the following conditions:

  • Lumbar disc herniation: This occurs when the intervertebral disc ruptures and its contents protrude beyond the normal limits. When this happens, the displaced disc contents can occupy the space where the spinal column nerve roots run, including the sciatic nerve.
  • Lumbar spinal stenosis: Stenosis is narrowing of the lumbar spinal canal through which the nerves run to your lower extremities. It can occur at one or more lumbar levels. If it affects the L5 and S1 nerve roots, it can cause sciatic pain.

There are other, much less frequent, causes of sciatica such as diabetes or a tumor.

Treatments for sciatica

The treatment for sciatica will depend mainly on its cause. For this reason, it is essential to go to a specialist and undergo the necessary tests to determine the cause.

At Instituto Clavel, our medical team makes a diagnosis based on the symptoms, physical examination, and imaging tests. For the latter, we have the EOS scanner, which allows us to obtain a high quality image of  the patient's complete skeleton, to help identify the origin of the pain.

If the cause of the sciatica is determined to be a pathology of the spine such as lumbar disc herniation or spinal stenosis, we will try to improve symptoms with conservative treatments such as medication, rehabilitation, personalized physical activity, guidelines for changing habits, or even epidural infiltrations.

If these remedies are not effective, the problem may need to be addressed surgically. Again, the type of intervention will depend on the cause that has been identified. If the sciatica is caused by a herniated disc, there is the option of a lumbar microdiscectomy with or without arthroplasty (disc replacement) or arthrodesis (disc fusion). If it is due to stenosis of the spinal canal, it may require a lumbar laminectomy or decompression.

In any case, this article provides general information, and our advice is that if you have any of these symptoms, you should see a specialist to get an accurate diagnosis and find answers to all your questions.

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