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What Is the Difference Between Sciatica and Meralgia Paresthetica? (Explained)

What Is the Difference Between Sciatica and Meralgia Paresthetica? (Explained)

Sciatica and Meralgia Paresthetica are the two most common types of nerve pain that patients experience. While it may seem like these conditions have many similarities, there are quite a few differences between them. However, both can be very disruptive to your life in terms of activities and symptoms.

Some information about what you need to know about sciatica and Meralgia Paresthetica are the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment. This is so you can tell the difference between them, or if you suffer from both conditions simultaneously, determine what type of treatment will work best for your case.

woman lying on hospital bed
Woman lying on a hospital bed

What Is Meralgia Paresthetica and Its Causes?

 Another name for Meralgia Paresthetica is lateral femoral cutaneous nerve entrapment. It is a condition in which the sensations of the patient experience in the skin along the outer thigh, starting from the inguinal ligament and extending down toward the knee.

It’s caused due to the compression of the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve which is the nerve that provides sensation to the skin covering your thigh. The compression of this nerve causes tingling, numbness, and burning in the patient’s outer thigh.

The compression of the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve which is responsible for Meralgia Paresthetica can be caused due to trauma or swelling. Thus, the common causes for this condition are all such actions that put pressure on the groin. Following is a list of those actions:

  • Pregnancy.
  • The continuous movement of the legs.
  • Weight gain.
  • The accumulation of fluid in the abdomen.
A video about Meralgia Paresthetica discussing its causes and its symptoms

Symptoms of Meralgia Paresthetica

Patients suffering from Meralgia Paresthetica may experience the following symptoms in their body:

  • Burning, tingling, or numbness in the thigh
  • High level of pain when your thigh is touched even lightly
  • Pain in the groin that may spread to the buttocks

How Is Meralgia Paresthetica Treated and Cured?

The cure for Meralgia Paresthetica is to reduce the pressure on the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve and stop it from compressing. This is done by making attempts to reduce the stress and pressure on the groin area. The treatment procedure includes losing weight, wearing loose clothes, and avoiding restrictive items like zips or seatbelts.

Some other treatments for this disease are physical therapy including massages, and Phonophoresis, which uses ultrasound waves to help your body absorb topically applied pain medications. Doctors also recommend the following medicine for patients:

  • Gabapentin (Gralise, Neurontin)
  • pregabalin (Lyrica)
  • Anticonvulsants.

In the case of some patients who still experience symptoms after trying out the other treatment methods, the doctors may have to resort to surgery. Surgery is necessary to correct any compression on the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve.

A group of people running to stay fit and lose weight
A group of people running to stay fit and lose weight

How Can You Reduce Your Chances of Getting Meralgia Paresthetica?

Meralgia Paresthetica is a type of disease that cannot be prevented. However, you can reduce your chances of developing the condition by taking precautions to ensure that you do not exert extra pressure on your joints. You can do so by taking the following initiatives:

  • Achieving a weight that’s healthy for you
  • Wearing loose clothing
  • Avoid girdles or belts, including tool belts.

Diagnosis For Meralgia Paresthetica?

The procedure of diagnosis is rather simple. The doctor usually diagnoses you by studying your past medical and surgical history and with the help of a physical exam. The doctor may also ask you questions like what type of clothing you wear or belts you use on a regular basis in order to assess the pressure being exerted on your lateral femoral cutaneous nerve. The doctor may also ask you to point out the numb or strained area on your thigh.

Your blood may also be tested for second-test diabetes and to note down the levels of thyroid hormone and vitamin B in your blood. In order to factor out other conditions from the equation like nerve root problems or femoral neuropathy the doctors may suggest a number of tests:

Imaging studies: In case you do have Meralgia Paresthetica pictures of your hip area can be used to factor out other conditions as a cause of your symptoms.

Nerve Blockade: In this method of diagnosis the doctor injects an anesthetic into your thigh where the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve enters it, If you feel the relief of pain then it confirms that you have Meralgia Paresthetica.

For adult women, doctors run pelvic ultrasounds. This test is used to identify uterine fibroids and it can rule them out as a possible cause of the symptoms.

What is Sciatica  Paresthetica

Sciatica is nerve pain that is caused because of an injury to the Sciatic nerve which is the thickest and longest nerve in the body and originates from the buttock area. The sciatic nerve runs down our knees buttocks and legs on each side of our body.

Direct injury to the Sciatica nerve is very rare therefore the term sciatica pain is used to refer to any injury that occurs in the lower back. This injury causes irritation, pinching, or even compression of a nerve. This pain can also lead to muscle weakness. Different patients describe the pain in different ways. Some people describe it as jolts of pain others describe it as stabbing or burning.

Though its exact cause is not known, sciatica appears to result from pressure on a nerve that branches off your spinal cord in your lower back. This pressure can be caused by a herniated disk. A disk is composed of an outer ring made up mostly of collagen — a tough structural protein — and an inner core with jelly-like fluid called nucleus pulposus.

Like any muscle, as we age disks may weaken, bulge or rupture. When that happens, disk material may press against nearby nerves which can cause them to become irritated or inflamed. It’s most common for it to affect one side at a time; however, if you have severe sciatic nerve pain you could experience pain in both legs at once while lying down or sitting down.

A video giving an overview of sciatica

What Are the Symptoms of Sciatica?

Patients suffering from sciatica may experience the following symptoms:

  • Different levels of pain ranging from mild pain to a burning sensation
  • Feel like you have been electrocuted
  • May experience muscle weakness or numbness in the affected foot or leg
  • Loss of bowel and bladder control.

How to Cure Sciatica Paresthetica?

The treatment of sciatica pain isn’t something very difficult. The main goal of the treatment is to reduce pain and increase your mobility. Most of the time the pain goes away after some time and you recover yourself. You can use the following self-care treatments to cure your pain.

Apply ice and hot packs: Applying ice packs is a very effective way of reducing pain and numbness. You should wrap ice in a towel and place it on the area where you are feeling the pain. Keep the icepack on that area for at least 30 minutes several times a day. This can really help to reduce the swelling and the pain. Next switch to hot water bottles or packs and repeat the same procedure until the pain is lifted or reduced.

Other forms of treatment include physical therapy which helps to reduce stress on the nerve by making the body more agile and flexible. And spiral injections are injections that are directly plugged into the bone. These injections help to reduce swelling and pain around the nerve. The patients feel a burning sensation when injected.

If none of the above treatments work and the patient’s pain gets worse with time then the doctors resort to surgery. The doctors perform surgery to remove the part of the disc that exerts pressure on the nerve to reduce the swelling and the pain.

person massaging the back of a woman suffering from backpain
Person Massaging the Back of a Woman Suffering from Backpain

How Is Sciatica Pain Diagnosed?

The first step a doctor takes while diagnosing you for sciatica is reviewing your medical history. This is done to ensure that you don’t have any other illnesses which may be a cause of your symptoms and so that the doctor knows about your health and physical condition

Next, the patient is asked to take a physical exam. The aim of this exam is to test how well your spinal cord is supporting your weight to determine whether you have sciatica or not. The patient is asked to walk on his toes, perform situps and do straight leg raises. The points of these exercises are to understand the extent of your pain, pinpoint the point at which your pain occurs and trace the nerves that are affected.

Next, the doctor performs a series of medical imaging tests:

Discogram: The discogram is a type of medical imaging test used by doctors to evaluate back pain. A dye is injected into your tissues which allows the doctors to see abnormalities in the discs. Hence, they’re able to determine if an abnormal spine is the cause of your back pain or not.

X-ray: An X-ray allows the doctor to see the inner organs of the patient’s body, bones, and tissues. By doing this the doctor can spot an overgrown bone that may ve pressing on a nerve and causing pain.

MRI: MRI allows the doctor to study details of the bones and tissues. By doing this the doctor can see pressure being exerted on a nerve, disk herniation, or any other such condition that may apply pressure on the nerves and cause sciatica.

The Difference Between Sciatica And Meralgia Parestheticia

As you have read until now that Sciatica and Meralgia differ greatly from each other. In terms of their causes, symptoms, diagnoses, and even their treatment. Sciatica refers to pain in the lower back region and is caused by the compression of a nerve whereas Meralgia Paresthetica is pain felt in the upper thigh region. The main differences between these two conditions are explained in the table below:

Sciatica defines back pain that spreads or radiates toward the legMeralgia defines pain in the outer thigh region on either one or both sides.
Sciatica can spread towards the lower body like the buttocks calf muscles or even the toesMeralgia usually stays restricted to the knees and doesn’t spread any further
Sciatica can be cured through a number of treatmentsFor meralgia, there are lesser treatments and more preventative measures like wearing loose clothes, etc.
Everyone is equally prone to sciatica other diseases do not impact the chances of getting this condition a lotPatients with type 2 diabetes are more likely to have meralgia
Sciatica vs. Meralgia Parestheticia

Conclusion

  • Sciatica and Meralgia Paresthetica are two very dangerous and painful conditions. The causes of these conditions are mostly everyday tasks that we do therefore we should be cautious
  • Although dangerous, these conditions can be cured if treated fast. Thus, we should always keep an eye on the symptoms.
  • Hopefully, now you have understood the difference between these two conditions in terms of their causes, symptoms, and treatment methods.

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