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Virgil Balint, MD
Relieve the Pain of Sciatica Without Surgery or Down Time
National Spine & Pain Centers
. http://www.treatingpain.com

Relieve the Pain of Sciatica Without Surgery or Down Time

Sciatica is a term referring to pain that originates in the lumbar (lower) spine but is more intense in the thigh, leg and foot. Most often seen in adults between 30 and 50 years of age, almost 50% of us will have sciatica at some point during our lifetimes. If you've already experienced an acute attack of sciatica, you know the pain can be incapacitating. It may even be accompanied by numbness, weakness and inability to stand up and walk. Fortunately, relief may be possible with effective non-surgical treatment.

Accurate diagnosis is key

In older people, spinal stenosis may trigger sciatica, but in general, the most common cause is a herniated or ruptured disc. Discs are soft, rubbery pads between the bony vertebrae of the spine. When young, the discs are almost 80 percent water. As we age, the water content decreases making them less pliable and more susceptible to wear and tear. If the disc's outer ring of cartilage develops a tear, the inner nucleus can bulge out like toothpaste, putting pressure on surrounding nerves. Even slight amounts of pressure can cause pain, numbness or weakness.

When the herniated disc is in the lower spine, it can compress and irritate the roots of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve extends many branches as it travels from the spine down the length of the leg. When pinched, pain may be experienced anywhere along the branches, radiating from the buttocks down the back of the leg and sometimes through the shin and foot.

A good clinical examination, including neurological and musculoskeletal testing, is a must because symptoms are not always typical. Imaging tests such as an MRI scan and EMG/nerve studies are essential to accurately pinpoint the cause and exact location of the nerve root irritation.

Pain relief without surgery

Up to 90 percent of herniated discs can be treated without surgery. Even for persistent, intense pain, selective epidural injections can provide much needed relief. First used to treat spinal pain in 1901, epidural injections today are extremely accurate and very effective thanks to advanced technology. Using special x-ray equipment called a fluoroscope, physicians are able to see and deliver strong anti-inflammatory medication directly to the inflamed disc and irritated nerves. Up to three injections may be given usually two to three weeks apart. However, many patients gain considerable relief with the first or second injection.

Covered by insurance, including Medicare, epidural injections are safely performed in a medical office with local anesthesia. This treatment method offers pain relief without surgery, general anesthesia, or hospital stays and with little to no down time. In fact, most people return to work afterwards or to other normal activities.

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