Sciatica is a form of pain that begins in the lower back and radiates down the leg into the feet and toes. It is relatively common; however it can be easily misunderstood. Sciatica is not actually considered a medical condition, but instead is a term used to describe symptoms that are caused by other issues. Sciatica specifically, is compression of the sciatic nerve. Because sciatica is not a diagnosis in itself, it is important to visit a professional to correctly diagnose and treat the underlying cause.
What Causes Sciatica?The sciatic nerve is the longest and thickest nerve in the body. It begins in the lower back, continues down the buttock and extends down the leg. The nerve provides feeling to the muscles of the leg and foot and when compressed by an injury or illness, sciatica is the result. Sensations that are felt from sciatica include pain, tingling, or burning in the buttock, leg, and feet and toes, typically on only one side of the body. Some describe it as feeling like being pricked with needles. The symptoms and sensations can be varied between patients depending on where on the body the nerve was compressed. Also varied is the degree of pain or discomfort ranging from mild to extremely intense. Generally, it is more painful to sit, however in some cases it can be very difficult to stand up or walk.
There are a number of causes and risk factors for sciatica. The most common risk factors include:
- Pregnancy - Hormones the body changes a pregnant woman experiences may affect the body structure enough to cause nerves malfunction and become more prone to sciatica.
- Muscle strain - The inflammation caused by muscle strain can become problematic enough to cause sciatica.
- Spinal Tumor - In rare cases, a tumor may exist causing pressure that can bring on sciatica.
- Infection – Infection can cause trauma in the lower back exposing the nerve to sciatica.
- Disk herniation - Irritation of the contiguous nerve root, from the inner core of the disc herniating through the outer core, results most commonly in sciatica as a symptom from this.