What is Sciatica?
Sciatica is the name given to pain caused by irritation of the sciatic nerve. Anything that irritates this nerve can cause pain, ranging from mild to severe. Sciatica is usually caused by a compressed nerve root in the lumbar (lower) spine. Often, the term "sciatica" is confused with general back pain. However, sciatica is not just limited to the back. The sciatic nerve is the longest and widest nerve in the human body. It runs from the lower back, through the buttocks, and down the legs, ending just below the knee. This nerve controls several muscles in the lower legs and supplies sensation to the skin of the foot, and the majority of the lower leg.
Sciatica is not a condition, but rather a symptom of another problem involving the sciatic nerve. Some experts estimate that up to 40 percent of people will experience sciatica at least once in their life. Here are the most common symptoms.
What are the Symptoms of Sciatica?
Most typically, you’ll feel weakness in your knees. Well, actually just one knee—and it runs throughout the entire leg. The sciatic nerve—the one that gets pinched and causes sciatica—is the largest single nerve in the entire body, running from the lower spine all the way down to the foot. When that nerve is pinched, its function is disrupted, resulting in all kinds of unwanted sensations, such as pain, weakness, and tingling. And while pain is pretty common (and oftentimes hard to diagnose), pain and weakness in a single leg acts like a red flag for doctors.
Sciatica causes pain, a burning sensation, numbness, or tingling radiating from the lower back and upper buttock down the back of the thigh to the back of the leg. The result is lumbar pain, buttock pain, hip pain, and leg pain. Sometimes the pain radiates around the hip or buttock to feel like hip pain. While sciatica is often associated with lower back pain (lumbago), it can be present without low back pain. Severe sciatica can make walking difficult if not impossible. Sometimes the symptoms of sciatica are aggravated by walking or bending at the waist and relieved by lying down. The pain relief by changing positions can be partial or complete.
Treatment for Sciatica
Physician specialties that evaluate and treat sciatica range from generalists to subspecialists. These specialties include general medicine, family medicine, internal medicine, gynecology, orthopaedics, neurosurgery, rheumatology, pain management, and physiatry. Other health-care providers for low back pain include physical therapists, chiropractors, massage therapists, psychologists, and acupuncturists.
How long does Sciatica last?
The duration of sciatica is critically dependent on its cause. A disc herniation, back sprain, shingles, and degenerative lumbar spine can all cause temporary forms of sciatica, lasting from days to weeks. Each can also cause chronic sciatica. Sometimes degeneration of the lumbar spine and discs can cause chronic sciatica that persists unless a surgical intervention is performed.
In some cases, sciatica cannot be prevented. However, there are several lifestyle changes that can reduce the chances of developing it, including: Regular exercise - focus on strengthening core muscles (in the abdomen and lower back) necessary for proper posture, as well as proper posture - standing and sitting upright, lifting objects correctly, and selecting a mattress and pillow that support the spine.