What is Sciatica? Adele’s debilitating back pain condition could affect 40% of people in their life


Adele has revealed she is suffering from a debilitating back condition that strikes four in 10 Americans in their lifetimes.

The 34-year-old was filmed hobbling across the stage in Las Vegas at a New Year’s Eve concert, telling fans: ‘I have a wobble these days because I have really bad sciatica.’

The injury normally occurs due to a slipped disk, which presses against the sciatic nerve that runs from the lower back to the foot. It can cause shooting pains, a sensation of cramp and can be so severe it leaves someone unable to walk.

Adele has been plagued with back problems for half her life after suffering two slipped disks — one when she was 15 years old, and the second two years ago.

The above graphic shows the sciatic nerve (blue line), and where it connects to the spinal cord. In sciatica, the nerve becomes compressed. This can be caused by a slipped or herniated disk (shown right), or other factors including a blood clot and arthritis. The compression leads to pain anywhere in the nerve, even possibly in the foot or lower back area. Sufferers can face such severe pain that it leaves them unable to move. They may also experience a ‘knife-like’ pain across the affected leg. There is a sciatic nerve running through the left and right leg but in sciatica normally only one is affected

Adele was filmed hobbling across the stage at a New Year's Eve Concert at Caesar's Palace' stadium called the Colosseum in Las Vegas, Nevada. She is shown above performing in the same stadium in November last year.

Adele was filmed hobbling across the stage at a New Year’s Eve Concert at Caesar’s Palace’ stadium called the Colosseum in Las Vegas, Nevada. She is shown above performing in the same stadium in November last year.

The slipped disk when she was 15 happened after the star ‘sneezed’ in bed, she has revealed. 

The second slipped in January 2021 after her son Angelo, who was eight at the time, jumped out to scare her as she came out of the bathroom.

Adele also has an extra bone in her spine. Most people have five bones in the lower part of their back — called lumbar vertebrae —, but Adele has six.

The sciatic nerve is attached to the spinal cord and has two functions — to help the muscles in the legs and feet to move, and to help give people sensations in their legs.

Sciatica is nerve pain from an injury or irritation to the nerve, which originates in the buttocks area.

Doctors say sufferers may feel a sharp ‘knife-like’ pain across the affected leg or a sensation of a bad leg cramp.

This happens because of pressure on the sciatic nerve, causing it to send pain signals to the brain.

This can last for weeks and, in some cases, is so severe that the sufferer is unable to move. 

It can also lead to weakness in the leg and incontinence.

Even when someone recovers from the acute injury it can flare up again in response to sitting too much, wearing uncomfortable footwear or even sleeping in the wrong position. 

Harvard Medical School experts say some 40 percent of Americans will experience sciatica at least once in their lifetimes. 

It is most common among people aged 30 to 50 and those who already suffer from acute or chronic back pain. 

But those who are obese, smoke or don’t get enough exercise are also more at risk. Lifting heavy weights in the gym also puts someone at higher risk.

Doctors at Johns Hopkins University say sciatica is usually caused by a slipped, or herniated, disk in the spine.

Between the bones, or vertebrae, in the spine are rubbery cushions with soft, jelly-like, centers called disks.

When these become slipped or herniated, the jelly-like center of the disks has broken out through the lining and is pressing up against other bones and nerves.

Other causes of sciatica include obesity, poor posture, blood clots, arthritis and some nerve disorders. Doctors say sometimes the cause cannot be diagnosed.

Adele told British music publication The Face in 2021: ‘I’ve been in pain with my back for, like, half of my life, really.

‘It flares up, normally due to stress or from a stupid bit of posture.

‘But where I got my tummy strong, down at the bottom, which I never had before, my back don’t play up as much.’

Doctors say about one in ten people have an extra bone in their spine, which can be caused by a genetic abnormality or spinal bones not fusing properly after birth.

Often it is harmless, and most people spend their whole lives without realizing it is there. But in some cases, it can lead to serious back problems.

Doctors treat sciatica by focusing on relieving pain symptoms for sufferers.

This includes telling people to take painkillers, such as ibuprofen, or having a steroid injection around the root of the nerve causing the pain.

Medics may also recommend physical therapy and weight loss to help reduce the symptoms.

Surgery is also an option to remove the bone or disk pressing on the nerve, but this is only done when the patient has muscle weakness, or loss of bowel and bladder control.

Cases of sciatica often resolve within a few weeks.

But those with a deeper underlying cause — such as the overgrowth of a bone — will require regular treatment.

What is Adele’s extra back bone? Is it serious? 

Most people have 33 vertebrae that make up their spine.

But Adele revealed in 2021 that she has an extra vertebrae — or a 34th — in the lower part of her spine.

This is normally caused by genetic abnormalities or vertebrae failing to fuse properly shortly after birth.

Adele said: ‘In January, I slipped my sixth one, my L6.’

There are normally five lower back vertebrae — or lumbar vertebrae — named from L1 to L5. But about one in ten people have an L6.

Most of the time this causes no symptoms and many don’t realize it is there, but in some cases it can lead to serious back problems. 

Doctors at spinal injury website spinalcord.com say the extra bone is normally just a ‘harmless anomaly’.

They add: ‘An L6 vertebrae is not, in and of itself, a cause for concern, and most people go through their entire lives without even knowing they have the condition.

‘However, this additional bone can complicate spinal health in some situations.’

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