Did you know that sciatic nerve pain is one of the most common types of pain? In fact, more than 40 percent of people will experience sciatic nerve pain in their lifetime. Even with these astonishing statistics, sciatic pain is still largely misunderstood. What type of pain is sciatica? Is it back pain or leg pain? What type of specialist do I see for treatment of sciatica? This guide will answer all of these questions and so many more about sciatic nerve pain.
What is the Sciatic Nerve?
The sciatic nerve is part of the nervous system and categorized as a major nerve that starts in the lower back, runs down the back of the thigh and branches off just above the knee into smaller nerves that run the length of the legs to the feet. What most people do not realize is that the sciatic nerve has the largest circumference of any nerve in the human body. It is no wonder that when damaged it can cause excruciating pain.
The Function of the Sciatic Nerve
The sciatic nerve provides feeling and sensation throughout the leg and foot. This nerve is also responsible for most movement by stimulating the muscles in the leg to be able to feel and move. Due to the fact that it branches off into smaller nerves, it is able to accommodate a large area of the body.
What is Sciatica Pain?
Sciatica pain refers to pain that originates from the sciatic nerve. It causes pain that runs down your lower back through your gluteus maximus, and down your leg. You have a sciatic nerve that runs down each leg, however, in most cases, you only experience sciatica pain on one side of your body at a time. Due to the nerve's massive size and length, sciatica can present in a variety of ways depending on the origination of the damage. Common symptoms include:
- Numbness and/or tingling in the affected leg
- Pain that ranges from mild to excruciating
- Burning sensation in the affected leg
- Muscle weakness
Everyone is different and may experience one or more of the above symptoms based on the severity and causes.
Causes of Sciatica Pain
The majority of sciatica pain is caused by the nerve becoming pinched due to compression of the lower back. This can occur by either a herniated disc, bone spur or even a tumor compressing on the nerve. Only a medical doctor or specialist can make a qualified diagnosis. If you suspect you have a damaged sciatic nerve, which type of specialist should you seek out to treat your sciatica pain?
Types of Specialists Who Treat Sciatica Pain
There are several specialties of medicine that have the ability to treat and prevent future sciatic nerve pain. The type of specialist best fit for your case will depend on the severity of your sciatica and the cause. Let's look at six different types of doctors who specialize in treating sciatica and which one may be right for you.
Even though chiropractors are not medical doctors, they are specially trained on relieving and managing back pain by manipulating the spine and back. Many cases of sciatica are caused by compression in the lower spine. This makes chiropractors an effective non-surgical option for sciatic nerve pain. A chiropractor will evaluate your situation, often times through the use of x-rays to determine a treatment plan that works best for you. In many cases, the issue is corrected over a series of visits. The duration of treatment is dependent on the severity of your condition.
Physiatrists are medical doctors that specialize in diagnosing and treating conditions of the musculoskeletal system. This includes:
Treatment is non-surgical, consisting of either physical therapy, medication or both.
Pain Management Specialists
Pain management specialists are trained to diagnose and treat pain from a wide variety of sources, including sciatica pain. Depending on the diagnosis and the best course of treatment, pain management specialists are trained to:
- Prescribe medication
- Administer nerve blocks
- Administer spinal injections
- Provide appropriate rehabilitation programs
Specialists in this field work with individuals who are experiencing both acute pain and chronic pain.
Physical therapists are specially trained to understand how movements of the body affect the body as a whole. Physical therapists conduct a thorough evaluation and then create a plan of manual exercises and movements to help relieve sciatic nerve pain. Your physical therapist can provide you with at home exercises to do in between your scheduled appointments in order to accelerate your recovery.
Orthopedists specialize in conditions associated with the skeletal system. This makes orthopedists a great option for those who are experiencing sciatica that is originating from lower back issues. Your orthopedist will conduct a thorough evaluation and suggest either non-surgical or surgical treatment. Non-surgical treatment may consist of anti-inflammatory drugs and/or muscle relaxants combined with rest. Surgical solutions may include removal of the herniated disk, bone spur, or tumor depending on the initial examination. Rehabilitation may be recommended post-surgery.
Neurosurgeons are specialists of the nervous system. They are specifically trained in treating conditions that cause damage or pain to the nerves in the body, including sciatic nerve pain. Your neurosurgeon will determine if your case requires surgery on the nerve in order to repair the damage and relieve the pain.
Finding the Right Specialist to Treat Your Sciatica
Different specialists treat sciatica in different ways depending on the cause of your pain. Chiropractors, physical therapists, physiatrists, and pain management specialists treat sciatic nerve pain non-surgically by manipulating the body and possibly using medications to relax the muscles and reduce inflammation. Orthopedists and neurosurgeons may use non-surgical treatments as well but have the ability to provide surgical treatments. For more than 60 years, Weiss Memorial Hospital has provided personalized and compassionate care to our community. Contact us today to find out how we can help you find relief from your sciatica and live life to the fullest!