The term sciatica refers to symptoms such as pain, tingling, numbness, or weakness that radiate along your sciatic nerve—which stretches from your lumbar spine down to your feet.
You might be surprised to learn that one of the most common causes of sciatica is a lumbar herniated disc. Read on to find out more about how a lumbar herniated disc can result in searing pain in your leg or numbness in your foot.
What is a lumbar herniated disc?
Before we discuss how a lumbar herniated disc injury may provoke your sciatica symptoms, let’s quickly define what a lumbar herniated disc is. The lumbar region of your spine, commonly referred to as the lower back, is comprised of five vertebrae, and in between each vertebra are spinal discs. These discs cushion the joints of your spine and provide much-needed support.
Each of your discs is made up of a durable outer ring—called the annulus—that contains the nucleus pulposus, or a gel-like interior. Your lumbar spine carries a significant amount of weight and is constantly in motion, and this can cause the outer ring of one of your discs to bulge, crack, or tear. This in turn enables the gel-like interior to herniate—or extrude through the outer ring.
A disc herniation can irritate your sciatic nerve roots
Your sciatic nerve begins as a bundle of nerve fibers in the lumbar region of your spine. These nerve fibers, or roots, leave your spinal canal through openings in your bones (called foramen) at each level of your lumbar spine. Your nerve roots then join together to form one large nerve—your sciatic nerve.
Most cases of sciatica are from an underlying lower back condition, which results in the irritation or compression of one or more of your sciatic nerve roots. In the case of a lumbar herniated disc injury, your sciatica symptoms may flare-up because the gel-like interior inside a lumbar disc contains inflammatory proteins—and when these proteins leak out they can aggravate your sciatic nerve roots.
Treatment options for sciatica from a lumbar herniated disc
No single treatment option works for everyone, but these two remedies may help you find relief from your sciatica symptoms caused by a lumbar herniated disc:
- Take a walk. Your sciatica symptoms might suggest otherwise, but a low-impact aerobic exercise like walking is typically better for your sciatica than rest. Walking can alleviate your sciatic pain in part by encouraging the release of pain-fighting endorphins into your system.
- Try heat therapy. Heat therapy stimulates the sensory receptors in your skin. This means that applying heat to your lower back will hinder the transmission of pain signals to your brain. A great option for applying heat therapy is to lie on an electric heating pad for 15-20 minutes.
Remember that there are numerous causes of sciatica, so it’s a good idea to have the underlying cause of your sciatica diagnosed by a doctor so you can form a comprehensive treatment plan that is unique to your needs.