Lumbar Spinal Stenosis and Sciatic Nerve Pain: What’s the Connection?

 Lumbar Spinal Stenosis and Sciatic Nerve Pain: What’s the Connection?

Lumbar spinal stenosis and sciatic nerve pain share a close connection. Without advanced treatments from a pain specialist, they cause lower back pain that progressively worsens. Here’s what you should know about back pain and how to get relief.

Back pain is a common problem that occurs more frequently as you get older, but our team at Alliance Spine Associates believe that living with chronic back pain should never define your daily life.

Lumbar spinal stenosis and sciatic nerve pain are two of the top causes of lower back and leg pain. We offer a vast range of safe, innovative treatments that ease your pain, improve mobility, and help you return to your favorite activities.

Let’s explore lumbar spinal stenosis and how it’s connected to sciatic nerve pain.

Lumbar spinal stenosis explained

Spinal stenosis can affect any part of your spine, but it most often develops in your lower back (lumbar spine). The problem occurs when natural openings in the vertebrae narrow.

An opening in the middle of each vertebra creates a protected area for the spinal cord. Other smaller openings in the sides of vertebrae let nerves leave and return to the spinal cord.

Since the openings are surrounded by strong bones, they don’t actually narrow unless you suffer a traumatic accident that damages the bone. However, the area inside the opening narrows when a degenerative spine condition protrudes into the area.

The conditions that frequently cause lumbar spinal stenosis include:

  • Herniated discs
  • Thickened ligaments
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Slipped vertebrae (spondylolisthesis)
  • Bone spurs

These conditions usually occur slowly, over many years of wear-and-tear that make the tissues deteriorate.

The connection between lumbar spinal stenosis and sciatica

The sciatic nerves leave your lower spine and travel down the back of each leg. Sciatic nerve pain begins when the nerve is compressed (pinched) by structures in the lumbar spine.

A pinched sciatic nerve is commonly called sciatica, but the medical term is lumbar radiculopathy. No matter which name you use, this condition is often caused by lumbar spinal stenosis.

More specifically, many cases of sciatica occur as a result of one of the conditions responsible for spinal stenosis: herniated discs.

When the sciatic nerve is pinched, you experience lower back pain at the site of the nerve compression. You will also have sciatica’s hallmark symptom: sharp, electric-shock pain radiating down one leg.

Symptoms often travel along the full length of a pinched nerve. Since the sciatic nerves go all the way down your leg to your feet, you can have pain, tingling, and burning sensations through the affected leg.

A severely damaged sciatic nerve may cause other problems in the leg. You may experience the loss of sensation (numbness), muscle weakness, and foot drop (weak foot muscles).

Treating lumbar spinal stenosis and sciatica

Our team begins the treatment for both conditions with conservative therapies (if you haven’t already spent months in unsuccessful medical care). Many people get the pain relief they need by changing their activities (avoiding those that cause pain), taking anti-inflammatory medications, and starting physical therapy.

If your symptoms don’t improve (or you’ve already tried the standard treatments), we offer a wide range of interventional treatments targeting the source of your pain. 

These are just five examples of the minimally invasive treatments we may recommend:

Epidural steroid injection

An epidural steroid injection sends steroids into the space along your spine, allowing the medication to flow around the pinched nerves. As a result, nerve inflammation subsides and your pain eases.

Radiofrequency ablation

Radiofrequency ablation uses heat from radio waves to precisely deactivate the nerves sending pain messages to your brain. Most people find that their pain substantially subsides when their brain doesn’t get the message.

Spinal cord stimulation

Spinal cord stimulation blocks or masks pain messages by sending mild electrical impulses into the nerves.

Intradiscal electrothermal therapy (IDET)

This minimally invasive outpatient procedure uses heat to repair a weak disc wall and destroy pain-causing nerves in the disc.

Minimally invasive lumbar decompression (mild® procedure)

We make one small incision and insert a specialized device to remove soft tissues and tiny pieces of bone narrowing the spinal canal. Most people return to all their normal activities in 24 hours.

Don’t put up with lower back pain or sciatic nerve pain. Call Alliance Spine Associates today or book online to learn about safe treatments that ease your symptoms.