The longest nerve in the body, the sciatic nerve runs from the lower back and down the legs, all the way to the feet. It is very common for people to have problems with the sciatic nerve, including sciatica. However, many people are unaware and misinformed as to what sciatica actually is. Let’s set the record straight on some common myths about sciatica.
Myth #1: Sciatica is a condition.
The truth: This is perhaps one of the most widespread myths about sciatica. When told they have sciatica, many people believe that is their diagnosis. Sciatica itself is not actually a condition or disease, but rather a name for a set of symptoms caused by a spinal condition. These symptoms, including pain, weakness, or numbness in the buttocks or leg and a burning or tingling sensation down the leg, are collectively known as sciatica. However, sciatica does not indicate the root cause of the symptoms.
Myth #2: Sciatica is only caused by certain conditions.
The truth: Sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve is compressed, and several spinal conditions can result in the compression of this nerve. Herniated discs are the most common cause of sciatica, but lumbar degenerative disc disease, bone spurs, lumbar spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, piriformis syndrome, or spinal tumors can all result in sciatica.
Myth #3: If you have leg pain without back pain, it can’t be sciatica.
The truth: The majority of patients with sciatica will experience back pain alongside the leg pain, but in rare cases, patients may not experience back pain. A thorough clinical examination should reveal the root cause of the leg pain. Sciatica can sometimes be mistaken for a leg injury. Recently, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo suffered from a herniated disc that caused sciatica, but it was initially thought that he had injured his hamstring. If you are receiving treatment from a leg injury and do not see any improvement, you may want to be examined to see if sciatica is causing your leg pain.
Myth #4: If you have sciatica, you should rest and avoid physical activity
The truth: While it is fine to rest for a day or two if you are experiencing significant pain, you should try to be as active as possible. Exercise can actually help to relieve the symptoms of sciatica. If you become inactive for too long, the back muscles can become weak and lose conditioning. Strong core and back muscles help to support the spine and improve posture. Try to incorporate stretching into your routine. Tight muscles can put stress on the back, irritating sciatica. Yoga can be especially beneficial for those with certain spinal conditions; even athletes are beginning to practice yoga to find relief from back pain.
Myth #5: Surgery is the only way to find relief from sciatica.
The truth: Unless there is significant weakness or loss of function, most doctors will try to treat sciatica with nonsurgical methods first. Nonsurgical treatment for sciatica will vary depending on the root cause, but may include physical therapy, hot and cold therapy, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or naproxen, or epidural steroid injections. If nonsurgical treatment fails to relieve pain, your doctor may then recommend surgery.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of sciatica, seek the attention of a medical professional. If you have any questions about sciatica, don’t hesitate to contact me or tweet me @GleiberMD.