Lower back issues that cause sciatica are common in older adults. It’s important to see a doctor as soon as possible.
What is Sciatica?
Sciatica is a general term that refers to any pain in distribution of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is a long nerve, originating from the spine in the lower back region, diverging into two pathways at the buttocks and running down the leg (2).
One of the main sciatic nerve functions is to connect your central nervous system to your legs. You use your sciatic nerve to help bend your knees, toes, and feet (1). The sciatic nerve is a large, major nerve in the circulatory system, so injury is common, but the actual cause of pain is infrequently found only in the sciatic nerve. Sciatica occurs most frequently because some lower back problem a patient experiences causes a pinching of the sciatic nerve, which sends shooting pain down one leg (2).
How sciatica can be caused by lower back issues
The sciatic nerve is comprised of 4 spinal nerves originating from your lumbar spine vertebrae in the lower back and the disks in between them (4). The disks, short cylindrical gelatinous structures with a firm outer protection, function to separate the vertebrae and allow them to move smoothly, but if a disk rips, bulges, or tears, it can cause what is called a herniated disk, which is one of the common causes of sciatica (4). The bulging of the disk onto the spinal nerve pushes it, which causes pain to travel down the leg. Spondylolisthesis, an instance where a vertebra moves and is no longer in line with the vertebra above or below it can cause the exposed bone pieces to pinch the spinal nerve, which can also cause immense pain (4). Other possible culprits of sciatica are osteoarthritis, which occurs as a result of aging, a traumatic blow to the sciatic nerve or the lower back, or even a tumor growing near the spine and pinching the sciatic nerve (concerning, but rare) (4). Spinal stenosis in older adults where the spinal nerves become compressed in the spinal canal is another significant cause of sciatica.
Sciatic pain can occur anywhere from the lower back, the buttocks, and the leg, or even down the entire nerve (3). The pain can be mild, but it is frequently described as sharp, stabbing, or burning (3). It is not uncommon to feel numb or tingly in the problem areas as well, especially the leg or foot (3). Sciatic nerve pain may come and go, and it often gets worse with movement—a sudden movement could send a quick jolt of white-hot pain down the leg. These symptoms make sciatica a very difficult pain to live with. It is important not to self diagnose health problems, so if you believe you are experiencing sciatic nerve pain, don’t wait; see a non-surgical doctor soon.
When to see a non-surgical doctor
It is possible for mild sciatica to fix itself with time, but that is not a solution to rely on. It is time to see a spine specialist when sciatica pain gets so severe that it is very difficult to walk, or even sit down at work, when you frequently lose your balance, when the symptoms have been present for over a month, or if you’ve been injured and start experiencing sciatica. These factors likely mean that sciatica is more serious and should be dealt with by a non-surgical medical professional.
Platelet-Rich Plasma Procedure (PRP)
PRP stands for platelet-rich plasma, which is created by taking blood and concentrating the platelets in plasma. Why do this? The platelets in your blood are responsible for clotting. They also have growth factors in them which help stimulate repair of the damaged tissue. Think of growth factors like espresso shots for local repair cells. They stimulate other cells to do more work and can even call the needed repair cells to the area (5).
This type of treatment is non-invasive and requires less recovery time than a surgical procedure. Regenexx physicians use precise imaging techniques to inject platelets into the precise area that is causing pain (6).
If sciatica has become a problem, click the link below to learn more about Regenexx PRP treatments and see if a Regenexx procedure is right for you.