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4 Conditions Cause Sciatica: Which Is Causing Your Pain?
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Tuesday, July 29, 2008
 

4 Conditions Cause Sciatica: Which Is Causing Your Pain?

"Sciatic pain is simply caused by pressure being placed on the sciatic nerve," says back pain specialist Jesse Cannone, co-founder of The Healthy Back Institute. "There are primarily four things that can create this"

Condition #1 - Piriformis Syndrome

This is the most common cause of sciatic pain and is created when pressure is placed on the sciatic nerve by the piriformis muscle. Muscle imbalances pull the hip joints and pelvis out of place and this change of position typically shortens and tightens the piriformis muscle, which then places pressure on the sciatic nerve.

The sciatic nerve runs under the piriformis muscle the majority of the time. However, it occasionally will run through or around the piriformis muscle. Whatever the case, muscle imbalances will cause major problems and are the underlying cause of piriformis syndrome.

When a muscle overpowers the opposing muscle, you have a muscle imbalance. "Think tug-of war," says Cannone. "When your muscles are out of balance, they pull your bones and joints out of their normal position. This places your muscles, bones and joints under constant stress and uneven pressure"

The position and curvature of your spine is determined by numerous muscles and whether they are balanced or not. Nearly every muscle in the body - there are more than 640 -- affects your spine. If just one of these muscles is out of balance, you're in trouble.

"So, what the heck does this have to do with getting rid of sciatica? You may ask," Cannone says. "Let me give a quick analogy"

What happens when you drive your car with unbalanced tires or your steering is out of alignment? Your tires will wear down unevenly and quicker than normal. Eventually, you'll have a blowout. The same is true for your body.

It's critical for you to understand that your body alignment and mechanics are affected by your muscles and even the smallest muscle imbalance can - over time -- place tremendous amounts of uneven pressure and wear and tear on your body, especially the spine and its supporting muscles.

Condition #2 - Herniated Discs

Sciatica can also be caused by pressure on the nerve due to a herniated or bulging disc. A herniation is when a disc protrudes out from between the vertebrae. This can be caused either by an event like a car accident or by months or years of uneven pressure due to muscle imbalances.

Herniated discs are probably one of the most common diagnosis for sciatica out there. This diagnosis is often used when a doctor cannot find an explanation for the person's pain -- similar to a doctor explaining away various aches and pains as arthritis.

Research has also shown that in many cases, people live with herniated discs yet never have any back pain or symptoms. Moreover, if you've been diagnosed with a herniated or bulging disc, it may not be what's really causing your back pain. Even if you've had x-rays and MRIs done that show a herniated disc, chances are still very good that it's not the problem.

The problem is, even if you were diagnosed with a herniated disc, you have to understand that if you don't address what caused the disc to herniate in the first place, you'll likely struggle with back pain or sciatica for years. "Nearly every herniated disc is the result of muscle imbalances," Cannone says.

Condition #3 - Spinal Stenosis

Sciatica can also be caused by pressure on the nerve due to a narrowing of the spinal canal. There are several possible conditions that lead to spinal stenosis:

-- Aging -- With age, the body's ligaments (tough connective tissues between the bones in the spine) can thicken. Spurs (small growths) may develop on the bones and into the spinal canal. The facet joints (flat surfaces on each vertebra that form the spinal column) also may begin to thicken.

-- Trauma -- Accidents and injuries may either dislocate the spine and the spinal canal or cause burst fractures that produce fragments of bone that penetrate the canal.

-- Heredity -- If the spinal canal is too small at birth, symptoms of spinal stenosis may show up in a relatively young person. Structural deformities of the involved vertebrae can cause narrowing of the spinal canal.

-- Fluorosis -- Fluorosis is an excessive level of fluoride in the body. It may result from chronic inhalation of industrial dusts or gases contaminated with fluorides, prolonged ingestion of water containing large amounts of fluorides or accidental ingestion of fluoride-containing insecticides. The condition may lead to calcified spinal ligaments or softened bones and to degenerative conditions like spinal stenosis.

The most important thing you can do if you are certain you have spinal stenosis is to ensure that you maintain as close to normal curvature in the spine. The more your spine is pulled out of place the tighter the space gets in the spinal canal. Again, identifying and addressing muscle imbalances are crucial.

Condition #4 - Isthmic Spondylolisthesis

Sciatica can also be caused by Isthmic spondylolisthesis, but it is much less common. Spondylolisthesis occurs when one vertebrae slips forward and places pressure on the adjacent vertebrae. This condition will produce both a gradual deterioration of the vertebrae in the lower spine and can also cause a narrowing of the spinal canal.

If abnormal motion allows this vertebrae to move back and forth nerves in the spinal canal may be affected causing pain, numbness, tingling or weakness in the legs. Many individuals who have this condition may not have symptoms, while others may experience long-term back pain and or sciatica.

Spondylolisthesis is most common in the lower spine. The most common cause is degenerative disease (like arthritis), and the slip usually occurs between the fourth and fifth lumbar vertebrae where there is the most curvature in the spine. Yet again, muscle imbalances play a major role.

"In order to get long-term relief from back pain, you have to start at the beginning, and that's with the muscle imbalances," Cannone says. "This means you have to identify the muscle imbalances that you have and then work towards correcting and improving them"

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Back pain specialist Jesse Cannone, co-founder of The Healthy Back Institute, is a certified fitness trainer, certified post rehabilitation specialist and certified specialist in performance nutrition. Cannone has authored a number of fitness books and is known most for his best-selling "Lose the Back Pain System," a self-assessment and self-treatment program for back pain and sciatica sufferers. Visit www.LosetheBackPain.com for tons of free resources like articles, audios and videos.
 
Jesse Cannone
Director
Healthy Back Institute
Gaithersburg
301-330-5544
800-216-3217