What is sciatica?

In the low back, nerves join to form the sciatic nerve, which runs down into the leg and controls the leg muscles.

Sciatica is a condition that may cause radiating pain, numbness, tingling, and/or muscle weakness in the leg, but originates from nerve root impingement in the lower back.

Nerve impingement is most often caused by a herniated disc or spinal stenosis.

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What is spinal stenosis?

Stenosis refers to a narrowing of the spinal canal, usually in the lower back (lumbar) region. This narrowing is often a result of the normal degenerative aging process.

It occurs as the discs of cartilage that separate the spine’s vertebrae lose water and the space between the vertebrae become smaller, causing friction between the bones. The loss of water in the discs makes them less flexible and unable to act as shock absorbers in the spine. Daily wear and tear on the spine becomes more significant without these shock absorbers.

As the discs degenerate, vertebrae may shift, causing the spinal canal to narrow. In some cases, the nerves that travel through the spinal column to the legs become squeezed. This can cause back and leg pain, and even leg weakness.

Arthritis and falls also contribute to the narrowing of the spinal canal, compressing the nerves and nerve roots and causing pain and discomfort.

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What is degenerative disc disease?

Degenerative disc disease is a general term applied to back pain that has lasted for more than three months. It is caused by degenerative changes in the intervertebral discs in the spine and can occur anywhere in the spine: low back (lumbar), mid-back (thoracic), or neck (cervical).

Under the age of 30, these discs are normally soft, and they act as cushions for the vertebrae. With age, the material in these lumbar discs becomes less flexible and the discs begin to erode, losing some of their height. As their thickness decreases, their ability to act as a cushion lessens. The less dense cushion now alters the position of the vertebrae and the ligaments that connect them. In some cases, the loss of density can even cause the vertebra to shift their positions. As the vertebrae shift and affect the other bones, the nerves can get caught or pinched and muscle spasms can occur.

Degenerative disc disease is primarily a result of the normal aging process, but it may also occur as a result of trauma, infection, or direct injury to the disc. Heredity and physical fitness may also play a part in the process.

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What are muscle spasms?

When muscles become inflamed, they can also spasm, or contract tightly, as a response to injury. While they are the body’s way of protecting itself from further injury, they often produce excruciating and often debilitating pain. Muscle spasms are common in the low back (lumbar) muscles.
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