Sciatica (Lumbar Radiculopathy)


Sciatica is a common yet often misunderstood type of back pain that impacts as many as 40% of people sometime in their life, with occurrences becoming more frequent with age.

Sciatic pain and symptoms like leg numbness, tingling or weakness are caused by a pinched or compressed nerve root exiting the spinal cord in the spine’s lumbar region — resulting in the medical term lumbar radiculopathy.

If you struggle with sciatic pain in your back or radiating into your leg, call Desert Institute for Spine Care in Arizona. Our orthopedic doctors focus on providing the most advanced diagnosis and treatment options for lumbar radiculopathy.

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Doctor pointing out areas on a human spine model

What Is Sciatica (Lumbar Radiculopathy)?

Sciatica, also called lumbar radiculopathy, is a description of symptoms rather than an actual diagnosis. The term describes a form of sharp pain, tingling and sometimes numbness that originates from the sciatic nerve. Sciatic pain travels via the sciatic nerve down the low back, and can also be felt in the buttocks, back of the thigh, behind the knees, the calves and the soles of the feet and big toes.

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What Are Sciatic Nerves?

The sciatic nerves are your body’s two largest nerves. Each is as thick as your little finger and runs down your back, through each of your legs and to your feet. Pain occurs when either the nerve root that forms the sciatic nerve or the nerve fibers themselves become irritated or pinched in the lower area of the back — the lumbar spine. This produces pain that can be felt anywhere along the nerve’s branch.

What Causes Sciatica?

Those who struggle with acute or chronic back pain may be more prone to sciatica. Other risk factors include obesity, smoking or a sedentary lifestyle.

The most common culprits for sciatic nerve pain are a variety of lower back conditions:

Intervertebral discs can weaken over time, causing a lumbar disc to herniate or rupture. When this happens, it can press directly on the sciatic nerve, leading to nerve inflammation or irritation.

This condition narrows the opening through which the nerve roots exit the lower spine, injuring nerve fibers.

This disorder occurs when a vertebra slips forward onto the bone adjacent to it in the lower part of the back.

Also called osteoarthritis of the spine, this condition can occur in the lower back and impact the sciatic nerve.

Injuries sustained during a fall, car accident or playing a sport can lead to nerve compression, especially when spinal bones become fragmented or broken.

Spine model depicting facet joint syndrome

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Sciatica?

No two sciatic pain episodes are alike, and the severity of your lumbar radiculopathy symptoms can range from a mild annoyance to debilitating pain that makes it difficult to stand or walk. Sciatic pain usually occurs on one side of the body, but some conditions can affect the exiting nerves on both sides of the spinal cord, leading to symptoms on both sides.

The most common signs and symptoms that can run the length of the sciatic nerve include:

  • Numbness or tingling.
  • Dull ache or soreness.
  • Electric shock.
  • Burning or throbbing heat.
  • Stabbing or sharp, needle-like pain.
  • Muscle weakness.
  • Tightness or cramping.
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Sciatica (Lumbar Radiculopathy) Diagnosis

Getting help for sciatic pain starts with addressing the underlying problem that’s causing lumbar radiculopathy. At DISC, our first goal is to provide patients with an accurate diagnosis. This essential step ensures that all treatment to follow addresses your unique symptoms. Personalized Pain Diagnostics (PPD) is our proprietary diagnostic technique that allows us to find the source of the specific pain generator, whether it be sciatica or another spine condition.

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Sciatica Treatment Options in Arizona

For some people, sciatic pain resolves within a few hours or days. However, if your attacks continue for several weeks or even months, you should consult with a doctor. At DISC, our team of orthopedic surgeons strives to always provide the best treatment options for lumbar radiculopathy and sciatic pain to patients in Arizona. We always recommend conservative options first based on your sciatic pain and diagnosis. These may include:

  • Rest
  • Over-the-counter or prescription pain medication
  • Cold and hot compresses on the affected area
  • Physical Therapy

We may recommend therapeutic injections, such as lumbar transforaminal steroid injections, to deal with inflammation and especially intense pain. If episodes become frequent or begin to interfere with your daily life, back surgery for sciatica pain relief may be your best option.

The surgeons at DISC are experts in minimally invasive laser spine treatment for lumbar radiculopathy as well as more complex, traditional spine surgeries. Our expert surgeons also treat sciatica with a least invasive spine procedure called an Endoscopic Discectomy. This procedure has many patient benefits that minimize their time away from work and their active lifestyle.

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Dr Abrams explaining spine x-ray Dr. Abrams laughing

Board-Certified Doctors Who Treat Sciatica in AZ

If you are experiencing sciatic nerve pain, the doctors at DISC offer a wide range of treatment options for lumbar radiculopathy at our clinics in the Phoenix, AZ area. Contact us today to schedule your appointment.


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