Everything you need to know about Sciatic Pain
Sciatica refers to pain that radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve, which branches from your lower back through your hips and buttocks and down each leg. Typically, sciatica affects only one side of your body. The sciatic nerve is the longest and thickest nerve in the body. It’s made up of five nerve roots: two from the lower back region called the lumbar spine and three from the final section of the spine called the sacrum. The five nerve roots come together to form a right and left sciatic nerve.
On each side of your body, one sciatic nerve runs through your hips, buttocks and down a leg, ending just below the knee. The sciatic nerve then branches into other nerves, which continue down your leg and into your foot and toes. Sciatica most commonly occurs when a herniated disk, bone spur on the spine or narrowing of the spine compresses part of the nerve. This causes inflammation, pain and often some numbness in the affected leg. Although the pain associated with sciatica can be severe, most cases resolve with non-operative treatments in a few weeks. People who have severe sciatica that’s associated with significant leg weakness or bowel or bladder changes might be candidates for surgery.
What does sciatica pain feel like?
People describe sciatica pain in different ways, depending on its cause. Some describe the pain as sharp, shooting, or jolts of pain. Others describe it as “burning,” “electric” or “stabbing.” The pain may be constant or may come and go. Also, the pain is usually more severe in your leg compared to your lower back. The pain may feel worse if you sit or stand for long periods, when you stand up and when you twist your upper body. A forced and sudden body movement, like a cough or sneeze, can also make the pain worse.
Sciatica is often characterized by one or more of the following features:
Common Causes of Sciatica
- Pain. Sciatica pain is typically felt like a constant burning sensation or a shooting pain starting in the lower back or buttock and radiating down the front or back of the thigh and leg and/or feet.
- Numbness. Sciatica pain may be accompanied by numbness in the back of the leg.
- One-sided symptoms. Sciatica typically affects one leg. The condition often results in a feeling of heaviness in the affected leg.
- Posture induced symptoms. Feel worse while sitting, trying to stand up, bending the spine forward, twisting the spine, lying down, and/or while coughing. This may be relieved by walking or applying a heat pack over the region.
- Lumbar herniated disc. Research suggests that up to 90% of sciatica is caused by a lumbar herniated disc.
- Degeneration. Degeneration of tissues in the lumbar spine can compress or irritate the sciatic nerve.
- Lumbar spinal stenosis. Spinal stenosis is the narrowing of the spinal canal and is relatively common in adults older than age 60.
- Spondylolisthesis. This occurs when a small stress fracture causes one vertebral body to slip forward on another.
Sciatica usually affects only one leg at a time. However, it can occur in both legs. It. This can come on suddenly or gradually and depends on the cause. A disk herniation can cause sudden pain. Arthritis in the spine develops slowly over time. Sciatica is a very common complaint. Back pain is the third most common reason.
Symptoms of Sciatica Pain
The symptoms of sciatica are commonly felt along the path of the large sciatic nerve. Some of them include:
- Moderate to severe pain in the lower back, buttock and down your leg.
- Numbness or weakness in your lower back, buttock, leg or feet.
- Pain that worsens with movement; loss of movement.
- “Pins and needles” feeling in your legs, toes or feet.
- Loss of bowel and bladder control (due to cauda equina).
When to see a doctor
Mild sciatica usually goes away over time. If self-care measures fail to ease your symptoms or if your pain lasts longer than a week, is severe or becomes progressively worse. Then get immediate medical care, if:
- You have sudden, severe pain in your low back or leg and numbness or muscle weakness in your leg
- The pain follows a violent injury, such as a traffic accident
- You have trouble controlling your bowels or bladder
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