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Sciatica

At a Glance

  • Sciatica is a clinical diagnosis resulting from a compressed or pinched nerve roots of the sciatic nerve that exits the spinal canal in the lower back.
  • Sciatica often results in nagging lower back and buttock pain, and may cause severe pain, numbness and weakness in the lower extremity.
  • The most common cause of sciatica is a herniated disc, and the two terms are often used interchangeably.

 

Symptoms of Sciatica

Sciatica pain generally begins in the lower back or buttocks and continues down the leg, sometimes to the foot. Weakness, tingling or numbness in the leg may also occur. The pain can be quite severe and resistant to any pain medication.

Symptoms depend on which of the spinal nerves that make up the sciatic nerve (L4, L5, S1, S2, S3, S4) are compressed. For example, if the L5 nerve is involved in creating a sciatica, a “foot drop” deformity can develop which can be significant permanent nerve damage These symptoms may be exacerbated by sitting or standing for a long time, coughing, or by moving in a way that cause the spine to flex, as in some exercises. Lying down or doing exercises that extend the spine can provide relief..

Anatomy & Causes

A Herniated Disc is the most common cause of sciatica. The herniated or ruptured disc presses against the nerve roots of the sciatic nerve, causing pain.

The sciatic nerve is a large neurological structure the size of three finger breaths that is located outside of the spine. It is made up of at least six spinal nerves that exit the spine through the foraminal canals between each vertebra. The large sciatic nerve starts behind the buttocks and extends down the back of the thigh. It branches out like the limbs of a tree from the knee down.

Sciatica can also be caused by compression of the sciatic nerve outside of the spine in the buttocks area. The most common type of this condition is called pyriformis muscle syndrome.

Sciatica may also be a symptom of other spinal conditions, such as spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal. Bone Spurs or a Pinched Nerve caused by an injury can also generate sciatica.

 

Treatment for Sciatica

A physical exam generally diagnoses sciatica. X-rays and a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test are sometimes part of the diagnosis procedure.

Time can sometimes help sciatica go away. Initial treatments are generally non-surgical and include medications and Physical Therapy. Not sitting for long periods and increasing walking capacity (without pain) can help alleviate sciatic pain.

But since sciatica is most often caused by a Herniated Disc, treating the herniated disc can eliminate sciatica. Those treatments range from over-the-counter medications, to physical therapy, to pain management, and various types of surgery.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between sciatica and a pinched nerve?
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