The age of the internet has presented clinicians like me with a whole new set of problems. The most serious is the problem of patient self-diagnosis.
The internet is a vast storehouse of information. It’s possible to find information about everything from Ancient Rome to Elon Musk’s latest business venture. But that doesn’t mean everything you read on this thing-a-ma-jig is correct.
It also doesn’t mean that, even if the information you find is correct, that your personal diagnosis is. You’re not a doctor (well most of you reading aren’t). Doctors and therapists employ complex diagnostic tools to arrive at these diagnoses. You can’t find these tools on the internet, so you can’t really diagnosis yourself off WebMD.
I wanted to get that out of the way before answering the question, “What’s the difference between sciatica and a herniated disc?”. I’ve had patients come to me swearing up and down they had either one or the other, based on what they’d read online.
When I’ve had to tell them that their diagnosis was “off”, I have been met with everything from blank stares to tears. While sciatica can be related to a herniated disc, the two conditions are quite different. Let’s review.
The sciatic nerve is the largest in your body. Located in the spine, the sciatic nerve is composed of 5 nerve roots. Running down the backs of both legs, dysfunction in this nerve can cause burning, tingling, pain while seated and difficulty walking. The pain can reach as far as the feet.
Your vertebrae are protected by these cushion-like components, which are filled with a gel-like fluid. When a herniation occurs, this fluid is pressed outside the hard casing of the disc, causing pressure on nerves, which results in pain.
One of the most important differences between the two conditions is the fact that sciatica can be treated in a relatively short period of time. Herniated discs, on the other hand, require greater care. These represent a permanent condition. When left untreated, the impact on quality of life is much more severe.
At the outset, the two conditions can easily be mistaken for one another. Without those diagnostic tools we discussed earlier, it can be difficult to discern which is in play. Sometimes an MRI is required, so that clinicians can clearly see all the physical systems implicated to make an accurate diagnosis.
And sometimes, a herniated disc may provoke sciatica, but the converse is never true.
At Back & Body Medical, our multi-disciplinarian care model has successively treated many patients with sciatica and herniated discs. Working as a team, we bring you diversified care which treats you as an individual, with specific needs.
If you’re experiencing pain which you suspect is either sciatica or a herniated disc, don’t wait to come in and receive a diagnosis. From there, we can apply our award-winning pain relief model and get you back to enjoying life. Contact us to schedule an appointment.