Many women who experience lower-back and leg pain blame it on their shoes. But don’t throw out your high heels just yet. If your back pain is caused by a condition called sciatica, it’s unlikely that your high heels are the culprit.
“Sciatica is pain, tingling or numbness produced by an irritation of the nerves in the spine that form the sciatic nerve, which runs from the spinal cord in your lower back down through your buttocks and legs,” explains Spine Surgeon Rakesh Donthineni, M.D., MBA, with Alta Bates Summit Medical Center. “Shoes can aggravate lower-back pain by throwing off your posture and the alignment of your spine, but they don’t usually cause sciatica.”
The sciatic nerve controls many of the muscles in your legs and provides sensation to your thighs, legs and feet. When the nerve or its branches are compressed, patients often feel a shooting pain down their lower back and leg.
“Sciatic pain is often caused by a herniated disk in the lower back,” says Dr. Donthineni. “Each disk is a pad of gel held in place by cartilage and fibrous tissue that separates and cushions the vertebrae, or bones, in your spine. When a disk tears or herniates, the damaged disk can create pressure on the sciatic nerves that branch from your spine, causing pain.”
In addition to a ruptured disk, other conditions that irritate the sciatic nerves include:
For the most part, sciatica is caused by aging, but you can lessen the effects through regular exercise, stretching and strengthening the muscles that support your lower back and your abdomen.
“As we get older, our spinal canal narrows and our disks tend to degenerate from wear and tear, causing pressure on nerves,” notes Dr. Donthineni. “Our body parts are similar to the tires on a car: Some parts tend to wear out more than others over time if they aren’t in proper alignment. You can help minimize the wear on your spine by maintaining a healthy weight as well as good posture and body mechanics.”
The severity of your symptoms will determine when you should seek medical treatment. If you are experiencing mild to moderate pain, you can help alleviate your sciatica by:
To diagnose your condition, your doctor will take a complete medical history and perform a physical exam. Based on these findings, he or she may order a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test to better see the condition of your spine. Treatment could include steroid injections to lessen the inflammation or, in severe cases, surgery.
Alta Bates Summit Medical Center has been named an Orthopedic Center of Excellence because of the exceptional care we provide. We offer comprehensive state-of-the-art facilities and specialty services for treating sciatica, including diagnostic imaging, physical therapy, pain management and the latest in minimally invasive surgical techniques for a quick recovery.
Lower back pain in women