What is sciatica?

Sciatica refers to pain that radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve, which is the longest nerve in the body. The sciatic nerve originates in the lower back, branches through the hips and buttocks, and extends down each leg. Sciatica is not a medical condition itself but rather a symptom of an underlying problem, such as compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve.

Common symptoms of sciatica include:

Pain: The most characteristic symptom of sciatica is a sharp, shooting, or burning pain that radiates from the lower back or buttocks down the back of one leg. The pain may extend into the thigh, calf, or foot and is often described as severe or debilitating.

Numbness and tingling: Along with pain, sciatica may also cause numbness, tingling, or pins-and-needles sensations in the affected leg or foot.

Weakness: Some individuals with sciatica may experience weakness in the affected leg, making it difficult to walk, stand, or move the leg normally.


What causes sciatica?

Some common causes of sciatica include:

Herniated disc: One of the most common causes of sciatica is a herniated disc in the lumbar spine. When the soft inner core of a disc bulges out through a tear in the tough outer layer, it can press against the nearby nerve roots, including the sciatic nerve, leading to pain, numbness, or weakness in the leg.

Degenerative disc disease: As the discs in the spine age and degenerate, they can lose their cushioning ability, leading to decreased disc height and potential compression of the nerves, including the sciatic nerve.

Spinal stenosis: This condition involves narrowing of the spinal canal, which can put pressure on the spinal cord and nerve roots, including the sciatic nerve, leading to symptoms of sciatica.

Spondylolisthesis: When one vertebra slips forward over another, it can compress the nerves in the spinal canal, including the sciatic nerve, causing sciatica symptoms.

Piriformis syndrome: The piriformis muscle, located in the buttocks, can sometimes irritate or compress the sciatic nerve as it passes beneath it, leading to symptoms similar to sciatica.

Trauma or injury: Injuries such as falls, car accidents, or sports injuries can cause damage to the spine or surrounding structures, leading to compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve.

Muscle spasm: Tightness or spasms in the muscles of the lower back or buttocks can sometimes compress the sciatic nerve, leading to sciatica symptoms.

Tumors: Rarely, tumors or growths in the spine or surrounding tissues can compress the sciatic nerve, causing sciatica symptoms.

Factors such as age, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, and occupations that involve prolonged sitting or heavy lifting may increase the risk of developing sciatica.

The symptoms of sciatica can vary widely in severity and duration, ranging from mild discomfort to severe pain that interferes with daily activities. 

Treatment for sciatica typically focuses on relieving pain and reducing inflammation while addressing the underlying cause. This may include over-the-counter pain medications, prescription medications, physical therapy, heat or ice therapy, steroid injections, or in severe cases, surgery to alleviate pressure on the sciatic nerve.

If you suspect you have sciatica or are experiencing symptoms suggestive of sciatica, it’s important to have your primary care doctor consider imaging (MRI scan etc) and consultation for non-surgical pain management.

For any weakness or numbness, neurology evaluation with nerve testing will help to obtain an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan tailored to your individual needs.

Should there be a structural problem including nerve compressive lesion such as a disc herniation or bone spurs or a tumor, your doctors may consult Cerbo Clinic for a neurosurgery assessment.

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