Sciatica

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW:

Sciatica is a condition that causes pain along your sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve runs from your spine through both sides of your buttocks. It then runs down the back of your thigh, into your lower leg and foot. Your sciatic nerve may be compressed, inflamed, irritated, or stretched.


CARE AGREEMENT:

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.

RISKS:

An epidural steroid injection can lead to pain disorders or paralysis if it is placed incorrectly. It may also cause headaches, leg pain, and blockage of blood flow to the spinal cord. Surgery may cause you to bleed or get an infection. If not treated, your muscles and nerves may become damaged permanently. You may have decreased strength. You may not be able to move your leg or control when you urinate or have bowel movements.

WHILE YOU ARE HERE:

Informed consent

is a legal document that explains the tests, treatments, or procedures that you may need. Informed consent means you understand what will be done and can make decisions about what you want. You give your permission when you sign the consent form. You can have someone sign this form for you if you are not able to sign it. You have the right to understand your medical care in words you know. Before you sign the consent form, understand the risks and benefits of what will be done. Make sure all your questions are answered.

Activity:

You may need to rest in bed at first. Do not stay in bed longer than 2 days. Your caregiver will tell you when it is okay to get out of bed. Call your caregiver before you get up for the first time. As the pain decreases, you may need to start moving or walking to recover faster.

Medicines:

  • Pain medicine: You may be given a prescription medicine to decrease pain. Do not wait until the pain is severe before you ask for more medicine.

  • Muscle relaxers: This medicine helps relax your muscles. It is also given to decrease pain and muscle spasms.

  • Epidural steroid medicine: This may include both an anesthetic (numbing medicine) and a steroid, which may decrease swelling and relieve pain. It is given as a shot close to the spine in the area where you have pain.

Tests:

  • X-rays: This is a picture of the bones and tissues in your back, hip, thigh, or leg. This test may show other problems, such as fractures (broken bones).

  • CT scan: This test is also called a CAT scan. An x-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures of your hips, thighs, and legs. The pictures may show your sciatic nerve, muscles, and blood vessels. You may be given a dye before the pictures are taken to help caregivers see the pictures better. Tell the caregiver if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye.

  • MRI: This scan uses powerful magnets and a computer to take pictures of your hips, thighs, and legs. An MRI may show damaged nerves, muscles, bones, and blood vessels. You may be given dye to help the pictures show up better. Tell the caregiver if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the caregiver if you have any metal in or on your body.

  • Electromyography: This is also called an EMG. An EMG is done to test the function of your muscles and the nerves that control them. Electrodes (wires) are placed on the area of muscle being tested. Needles that enter your skin may be attached to the electrodes. The electrical activity of your muscles and nerves is measured by a machine attached to the electrodes. Your muscles are tested at rest and with activity.

  • Nerve conduction tests: These tests check how surface nerves and related muscles respond to stimulation. Electrodes with wires or tiny needles are placed on certain areas, such as the buttocks and legs.

Treatment:

  • Ultrasound therapy: This uses sound waves to decrease pain. Topical medicines may be added to help decrease pain and inflammation.

  • Physical therapy: A physical therapist teaches you exercises to help improve movement and strength, and to decrease pain. An occupational therapist teaches you skills to help with your daily activities.

  • Assistive devices: You may need to wear back support, such as a binder, brace, or corset. You may need crutches, a cane, or a walker to decrease stress on your lower back and leg muscles. Ask your caregiver for more information about assistive devices and how to use them correctly.

  • Chemonucleolysis: This is an injection given into the damaged disc to soften or shrink the disc.

  • Surgery: This may be done to correct problems such as a damaged disc, or a tumor in your spine. It may be done to decrease the pressure on the sciatic nerve. Caregivers may also release the muscle that may be pressing into your sciatic nerve.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Learn more about Sciatica (Inpatient Care)

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