Sciatica

The sciatic nerve begins from the lower spine on either side. It travels deep in the pelvis to the lower buttocks. From there, it passes along the back of each upper leg and divides at the knee into branches that go to the feet. Sciatica is an irritation of the sciatic nerve.

  • Causes

    Sciatica is caused by irritation or pressure on the sciatic nerve. This can be the result of:

    • Herniated disk—the cushions between the bones of your spine bulge and press on the nerve as it exits the spinal column
    • Arthritis in the lower back
    • Spinal stenosis—narrowing of the spinal canal in the lumbar area
    • Spondylolisthesis—slippage of a bone in the lower back
    • Cauda equina syndrome—nerve roots at the base of the spinal cord are compressed
    • Piriformis syndrome— spasm of piriformis muscle

  • Definition

    The sciatic nerve begins from the lower spine on either side. It travels deep in the pelvis to the lower buttocks. From there, it passes along the back of each upper leg and divides at the knee into branches that go to the feet. Sciatica is an irritation of the sciatic nerve.

    Sciatic Nerve Pain
    Sciatica Nerve Pain
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  • Diagnosis

    The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your doctor will pay particular attention to your back, hips, and legs. The physical exam will include tests for strength, flexibility, sensation, and reflexes.

    Imaging tests take pictures of internal structures. These include:

    Your doctor may also need to test your nerves. This can be done with a nerve conduction study.

  • Prevention

    Sciatica tends to happen more than one time. To help reduce your chances of sciatica, take these steps:

    • Use proper body movement when playing sports, exercising, or lifting heavy objects.
    • Practice good posture to reduce pressure on your spine.
    • Begin a safe exercise program with the advice of your doctor.
    • If possible, avoid sitting or standing in one position for long periods.
    • Consider job retraining if your work requires a lot of heavy lifting or sitting.

  • Risk Factors

    Sciatica is more common in men. Other factors that may increase your risk of sciatica include:

    Lifestyle and personal health factors, such as:

    • Obesity
    • Smoking
    • History of low back problems
    • Anxiety and depression

    Occupational factors, such as:

    • Heavy manual labor
    • Heavy lifting
    • Exposure to vibrations
    • A job that requires standing for long periods of time and forward bending

    Health conditions, such as:

    • Fractures in the back
    • Tumors
    • Infections
    • Metabolic problems, such as diabetes

  • Symptoms

    Sciatica causes symptoms that can range from mild to severe. In general, sciatica may cause:

    • Burning, tingling, or a shooting pain down the back of one leg
    • Pain in one leg or buttock may get worse with:
      • Sitting
      • Standing up
      • Coughing
      • Sneezing
      • Straining
    • Weakness or numbness in a leg or foot

    More serious symptoms associated with sciatica that may require immediate medical attention include:

    • Continuing weakness in a leg or foot
    • Numbness in groin or the buttocks
    • Difficulty walking, standing, or moving
    • Loss of bowel or bladder control
    • Fever, unexplained weight loss, or other signs of illness

  • Treatment

    The goal of treatment is to reduce sciatic nerve irritation.

    Treatment options include: