Sciatica refers to the pain associated with the sciatic nerve, which is one of the largest nerves of the body. It is made of many individual nerves that branch out from the lower part of the spine, normally from 3rd lumbar segment.
A single nerve root comes out of every level in the lower spine and all of them form a single large sciatic nerve. This large nerve then runs down through the buttocks and then to the back side of each leg. In the leg, the sciatic nerve further branches out to the thigh, calf and then to the toes through the foot.
Sciatic nerve pain is very rare before the age of 20, but becomes common in people of middle age i.e. normally between the ages of 40-50. The pain starts in the lower back, and it can sometimes lead to pain in the legs as well, affecting one or both legs. Therefore, there are cases when leg pain can be attributed to sciatica pain.
Causes of Sciatica
Sciatic pain can be attributed to many reasons. The main reason for it is pinching or compression of the sciatic nerve at any point along its course. The probability of this nerve being pinched in the lower back is much higher as compared to the probability of it being pinched in the leg, but the sciatica symptoms can still spread down one or both legs. Common causes for sciatica include:
- Slipped herniated disk that is pinching the nerve, and can lead to low back pain.
- Degenerative disc disease.
- Isthmic spondylolisthesis, in which the disk might slip forward over another one due to some fracture, thus pinching the sciatic nerve.
- Spinal stenosis in which the lumbar spinal canal narrows down towards the end with the passage of time and usually occurs in patients of age above 60 years.
- Piriformis syndrome is a condition in which the sciatic nerve gets compressed under the piriformis muscle in the buttocks and can lead to severe sciatica pain.
- Sciatica may also be triggered during pregnancy as the body undergoes changes during this time.
- Other causes include scar tissue, muscle strain, spinal tumors, and infections, etc.
Symptoms of Sciatica
Sciatic pain usually affects one side of the body with the pain originating in the lower back and then running down through the leg. The symptoms of sciatica vary from one person to another. Some people may experience severe pain, while others might find it mildly irritating, but every case has the potential to get worse with the passage of time if it is left untreated.
Pain tends to primarily affect the lower back and in some cases the whole leg, but in some cases, the back pain might be absent whereas the leg pain could be very severe. The common symptoms of sciatica are:
- Continuous pain in one side of the body i.e. buttock, leg, thigh, calf. Pain on both sides is very rare in case of sciatica, but it does exist, and it is referred to as bilateral sciatica.
- Pain originating in the lower back and radiating downwards along the sciatic nerve to the foot.
- Pain is usually very intense.
- A sensation that can be described as tingling or like being pricked with needles running down the leg.
- Numbness when trying to move the leg or foot.
- The pain might be so intense that one might find it difficult to even stand up or walk.
- The symptoms might also be felt in the toes depending upon the area where the sciatic nerve is pinched.
- While lower back pain is absent in many cases, when it is felt it is very light in comparison to the pain felt in the leg.
To make the pain go away, it is best for the sciatic nerve to be released so that it is not pinched anymore, as the pinching or compression is what tends to trigger the pain, whether it occurs in the lower back or leg. One of the best ways to free your sciatic nerve and get rid of the pain is to decompress your spine using a special orthopaedic tool called the Backrack.