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‘My Sciatic Nerve is Killing Me! How Can I Stop the Pain?’ — Ask Dr. Harry Fisch

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Bradley is 49, and a smoker, but takes relatively good care of himself. He is suffering from a sciatic nerve that goes down his entire spine. Every time he walks down the stairs he’s in steep pain. Is there any way to treat the issue without medication or surgery?

Dr. Harry Fisch’s Advice:

Smoking actually decreases blood flow through the body, so the habit isn’t helping matters. When smokers suffer from sciatica (which is an entrapment of the nerves coming from the spinal cord) it’s because the body is aging too quickly and the space in their back is narrowing much quicker than with a non-smoker.  Many times this causes severe muscle spasms, or much worse.

There are many ways to deal with the issue and some treatments are more effective than others. One temporary treatment is to practice daily stretching but this is more for pain management. Another option is Cortisone shots to deal with nerve inflammation. Cortisone shots will allow you to move around without experiencing constant pain. Some patients choose to get an epidural, a procedure where a doctor inserts a steroid directly into the spinal canal. If you don’t take care of this issue soon, your muscles will actually atrophy, and become harder and harder to use.

Another thing to take into consideration is that back pain is sometimes tied to an emotionally traumatic experience, so if something has upset you recently, this should be investigated too.

Dr. Harry Fisch is a board certified urologist at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Medical College of Cornell University.

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