Sciatica is one of the most prevalent type of pain involving your sciatic nerve, the largest nerve in the body. The pain radiates along this nerve, extending from the lower back through your hips and buttocks, knee, and down to the back of each leg. Typically, sciatica affects only one side of the body.
Sciatica pain varies from being infrequent and irritating to chronic and incapacitating. You may experience numbness, pain, weakness, or tingling. This condition commonly occurs when a herniated disk or bone spur compresses a part of your nerve. This then causes numbness in the affected leg, inflammation and pain. The pain resulting from sciatica can often be severe and debilitating but most cases resolve in a few weeks, requiring non-operative treatments.
Common Symptoms of Sciatica
Sciatica is characterized by these symptoms:
- Constant lower back pain, in only one side of the buttock or leg
- Pain that gets worse when sitting
- Hip pain
- Leg pain that is described as burning, tingling, or searing
- Difficulty moving the leg, foot or toes due to weakness and numbness
- Sharp pain that makes it difficult to stand up or walk
The trademark of sciatica is pain that radiates from your lumbar (lower) spine to your buttock and hip, down the knee and back of your leg. It will most likely follow the path of your sciatica nerve and you might feel the discomfort almost anywhere along the nerve pathway. As stated, usually only one side of your body is affected. The pain also varies from a mild, tolerable ache to a sharp, burning sensation or advance to excruciating and piercing pain. Sometimes, the pain can feel like an electric shock and can worsen when you cough or sneeze or when changing position. Prolonged sitting can also exacerbate the symptoms.
If you experience weakness in the lower extremity, numbness in the upper thighs, and/or loss of bladder or bowel control and have the above symptoms, you are advised to seek immediate medical attention.
Causes of Sciatica
Any cause of inflammation or irritation of the sciatica nerve can trigger the symptoms of sciatica. Though most commonly, it is a result of a lumbar disc herniation pressing and putting pressure on the nerve. Aside from pinched nerve from a disc other cause of sciatica may include irritation of the nerve from the surrounding bone, internal bleeding, tumors, infections in or around the lumbar spine, and injury.
Sciatica is caused by irritation of the root of the lower lumbar and lumbosacral spine including:
- Ruptured intervertebral disk
- Spinal stenosis which is the narrowing of the spinal canal that puts pressure on the nerve
- An injury such as a pelvic fracture
In many cases no cause can be found. Additional common causes of sciatica include:
- Breakdown of discs, which act as cushions between the vertebrae
- Spondylolisthesis, a condition in which one vertebra slips forward over another one
- Muscle spasm in the lower back or buttocks
You may also consider some other factors or condition that puts pressure on your back or make your back pain worse such as not exercising regularly, wearing high heels, being overweight, or sleeping on a bed/mattress that lacks proper support.
Most of the times, sciatica pain goes away on its own. The treatment that may be needed depends on the cause of the condition and may include going to a physiotherapist or doctor for physical therapy, exercise, prescription medicine and on worst cases, surgery.