DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am a 78-year-old woman, and five months ago I came down with sciatica in my left leg underneath the buttock. It’s very painful. I’d like to know if there is something that can be done. — S.M.
ANSWER: The sciatic (sigh-ATTIC) nerve is the body’s longest and largest nerve. It springs from nerve rootlets that emerge from the spinal cord in the lower back. Those rootlets intertwine to form this big nerve. It travels from the back, through the buttocks and down the leg to the foot. Anything that presses on or irritates the nerve in its long course gives rise to sciatica (sigh-ATTIC-uh), painful inflammation of the nerve.
A bulging back disk can press on the nerve. Arthritic spurs on the spine are another source of irritation. A collapse of a backbone from osteoporosis is another trigger for pain, and the pain can be in the lower back, the buttocks or down the leg to the foot.
Have you tried Tylenol (acetaminophen) for pain relief? Aleve, Advil, Motrin and the many other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs dull pain and quiet inflammation. Icing the painful back area for 10 to 15 minutes three times a day is another way to numb pain. If ice doesn’t work, turn to heat — hot compresses or a heating pad.
Stretching the back might take pressure off the nerve. Sit on a firm chair with feet on the floor and knees shoulder-width apart. Turn slightly to the left. Then, with your right arm dangling down between the knees and left arm dangling down on the outside of the left knee, bend down to the floor as far as you can and hold that position for five seconds. Straighten up and reverse the process by turning to your right and arranging your arms with the right arm outside the right knee and the left arm between the knees. If this exercise hurts, stop. If it doesn’t, perform five bends each, to the right and then to the left. Do the exercise three times a day.
Five months is a long time to put up with back pain. I’m not sure if selftreatment will do much for you. You need a doctor’s intervention, along with physical therapy.
The booklet on back pain delves more deeply into its causes and treatments. To order a copy, write: Dr. Donohue — No. 303W, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853- 6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Some time ago, you answered a letter from an 80-year-old lady who asked if she still needed to have mammograms. I say an unqualified yes. Two years ago, at the age of 82 1/2, my mammogram detected cancer. Surgery was followed by radiation. Two years later, I am feeling fine and doing well. — A.S.
ANSWER: Experts argue about the value of mammograms late in life. Stories like yours make me side with those who promote having mammograms as long as a woman is in reasonable health. If a woman has an estimate of living at least four more years, mammograms are a good idea.
Readers may write Dr. Donohue or request an order form of available health newsletters at P. O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853- 6475. ©2012 North America Synd.