Sciatica is the pain along the sciatic nerve felt from the lower back through the buttocks to the back of the leg. The sciatic nerve is a large nerve in the body that originates from the spinal cord in the lumbar region, and extends to the lower part of the leg. Generally, the pain is felt only on one side of the body and is often a symptom of an underlying medical condition rather than a disease in itself. In most cases, the pain is severe but resolves within a few weeks of treatment.
Sciatica is characterized by:
- Radiating pain from lower back to the back of leg
- Pain that increases while sitting, coughing, and sneezing
- Dull ache or tingling sensation in the leg
- Difficulty in moving the leg
- Numbness in the affected leg
- Difficulty standing up
The pain may sometimes affect the toes and feet depending on what part of the nerve is affected. The severity and frequency of pain in the legs differ depending on the individual. In some people, the pain may not be very frequent, but may occur in between as a nuisance.
One should immediately report to the doctor if:
- There is a sudden pain or numbness in the back of the leg
- The person gets the pain after an accident or injury
- There is difficulty in controlling bowel and bladder movements
The most common cause of sciatica is a herniated disc that presses against the root of the sciatic nerve. This may also be referred to as a slipped disc or a ruptured disc.
Sciatica may also be caused by:
- The presence of a narrow spinal canal in the lumbar region
- Degeneration of the discs in between the vertebrae
- Slipping of one vertebrae over the other
- Irritation of the nerve as it runs under the muscle in the buttock region
- Scar tissue that compresses the root of the nerve
- Spinal tumor
Wearing high heels and being overweight is also known to worsen back pain.
A number of non-surgical options including exercises are available to reduce the pain due to sciatica. Treating the underlying cause of the problem is the ideal way to alleviate pain. Medications to reduce pain and inflammation may also be recommended by physician. Inflammation may be reduced by epidural steroid injections. In some severe cases, surgical options may be suggested to relieve the compression in the lower spine. Alternative treatment options like acupuncture, physical therapy and massage therapy is also helpful in alleviating pain.