Degenerative Disc Disease and Sciatica

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

  • Medical Editor: Catherine Burt Driver, MD
    Catherine Burt Driver, MD

    Catherine Burt Driver, MD

    Catherine Burt Driver, MD, is board certified in internal medicine and rheumatology by the American Board of Internal Medicine. Dr. Driver is a member of the American College of Rheumatology. She currently is in active practice in the field of rheumatology in Mission Viejo, Calif., where she is a partner in Mission Internal Medical Group.

Low Back Pain Relief

Quick GuideSciatica Symptoms, Causes, Treatments

Sciatica Symptoms, Causes, Treatments

How is radiculopathy treated?

The treatment of degenerative disc disease, radiculopathy, and sciatica ranges from nonsurgical (medical) management to surgery. Medical management of radiculopathy includes patient education of the condition, medications to relieve pain and muscles spasm, cortisone injection around the spinal cord (epidural injection), physical therapy (heat, exercises, massage, ultrasound, electrical stimulation), chiropractic manipulation and rest (not strict bed rest, but avoiding reinjury). With unrelenting pain, severe impairment of function, or incontinence (which can indicate spinal cord irritation), surgery may be necessary. The operation performed depends on the overall status of the spine and the age and health of the patient. Procedures include removal of the herniated disc with laminotomy (producing a small hole in the bone of the spine surrounding the spinal cord), laminectomy (removal of the bony wall adjacent to the nerve tissues), by needle technique through the skin (percutaneous discectomy), disc-dissolving procedures (chemonucleolysis), and others.

What is bony encroachment and spinal stenosis?

Any condition that results in movement or growth of the bony vertebrae of the spine can limit the space (encroachment) for the adjacent spinal cord and nerves. Causes of bony encroachment of the spinal nerves include foramen narrowing (narrowing of the portal through which the spinal nerve passes from the spinal column, out of the spinal canal to the body), spondylolisthesis (slipping of one vertebra relative to another), and spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal causing by compression of the nerve roots or spinal cord by bony spurs or other soft tissues in the spinal canal). For example, lumbar spinal nerve compression in these conditions can lead to sciatica pain that radiates down the lower extremities.

Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal) can occur at any level of the spine, but it's most common in the lumbar spine of the low back. Symptoms depend on the level affected. For example, lumbar spinal stenosis can cause lower-extremity pains that worsen with walking and are relieved by resting (mimicking poor circulation of the lower extremities).

Treatment of these conditions varies (depending on the severity and condition of the patient) from rest to epidural cortisone injection and surgical decompression by removing the bone that is compressing the nervous tissue.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/6/2015

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