What Is Sciatica? Looking Into the Pain Pope Francis Struggles With

Tags: Currents Brooklyn Spine Center, Brooklyn, NY, Crux, Faith, Health, Health Care, Pope Francis, Queens, NY, Sciatica, World News

By Emily Drooby

Pope Francis spends his life serving God and faithful Catholics around the globe, but sometimes it can be difficult health-wise.

During Holy Week, the beloved pontiff was seen struggling to walk.

For years he’s publicly dealt with hip issues and bouts of sciatica, even back when he first became pope.

During a 2013 interview he told reporters in Italian, “Really! I experienced this in my first month as pope because when I would give interviews, I would sit in an armchair that caused this problem. It’s a very, very painful sciatica. I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone.”

Recently he cancelled appearances because of the sciatica pain, but what is it?

“So, most people who experience sciatica, which is a symptom, the pain will start in their lower back and will actually radiate down into either both of their legs or one of their legs,” explained Dr. Melinda Keller, who sees it all the time at the Brooklyn Spine Center.

The most basic explanation? It’s a nerve pain. It’s a symptom of an injury or irritation at the bottom of your spine, also known as your sciatic nerve.

Dr. Keller says often it’s caused by a misalignment of the spine, or issues with the discs, ones that interfere with the nerve.

“But what we are looking for are aligned vertebrae with healthy disc spaces that will create a nice opening for a nerve to come off,” she explained.

In the worst cases, it can be debilitating.

It can also be recurring depending on what’s causing it, like in Pope Francis’ situation.

It’s pretty common. Up to 40 percent of Americans will experience it at some point in their life.

It can happen to anyone. Dr. Keller has even seen teenagers with it, but normally patients are in their late 20’s and up.

Dr. Keller says if you’re having what you think is sciatic pain, go to a doctor right away. They’ll be able to treat the problem at the root of the pain, and not just the pain.

That could be through realignments, stretches and/or spinal injections, depending on your doctor.

She also suggests getting regular spinal check-ups throughout life to prevent it.