What You Need to Know about Sciatica

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The largest single nerve in your body is the sciatic nerve located below the spine in the lower back and extends down to the buttocks, and goes all the way down to the back of each leg. An irritation in the sciatic nerve or compression in the lumbar spine can cause sciatica.

Sciatica, in itself, is not a medical diagnosis, but an indicator of underlying medical condition like herniated disc in the lumbar, spinal stenosis or degenerative disc disease.  It describes the symptoms of leg pain that originates from the lower back down to the sciatic nerve located in the back of the leg.

Sciatica, unlike many conditions in the neuromusculoskeletal system, is not caused by injuries or a particular event, but tends to evolve over time. It rarely develops among people below 20 years old. The probability of experiencing sciatica is highest in your 50’s then declines. It has been found in studies that somewhere around 40 percent of people will experience sciatica sometime in their life.

Symptoms of sciatica include the leg pain, numbness, weakness, and tingling sensation, depending on a large extent on where the pinched nerve is in the large sciatic nerve.

Common Underlying Causes of Sciatica

The most common causes of sciatica are problems of the lower back:

  • Lumbar herniated disc – This condition happens when the inner portion of the vertebral disk leaks or slips out through the outer core of the disc. The herniation causes irritation of the contiguous nerve root. The most common symptom of a lumbar herniated disc is sciatica.
  • Degenerative disc disease – The natural process of deterioration of the discs in the lower back with aging can result to irritation in the nerve root and cause sciatica. With aging, the disc weakens, causes excessive micro-action in the spine and allows inflammatory proteins inside the disc to be exposed, irritating the surrounding nerve.
  • Lumbar spinal stenosis – Another condition resulting from aging, lumbar spinal stenosis is the narrowing of a spinal canal, which can cause sciatica.
  • Isthmic spondylolisthesis – This condition happens with the slipping forward of one vertebral body on another as a result of a small stress fracture in the first vertebral body. When this occurs, the nerve can get pinched and cause sciatica.
  • Sacroiliac joint dysfunction – A dysfunction and irritation in the sacroiliac joint, which is located at the bottom of the spine, can also irritate the nerve on top of it, causing sciatica pain.
  • Piriformis syndrome – The irritation of the sciatic nerve by the piriformis muscle above it can cause sciatica.

Other causes of sciatica may include:

  • Development s in the woman’s body during pregnancy, such as weight gain and hormonal changes
  • Scar tissue that compresses the nerve root
  • Inflammation due to muscle strain, which can put pressure on a nerve root
  • Spinal tumor and infection in the low back that can affect the nerve root

Treatment for Sciatica

The treatment methods for sciatica will differ depending on the underlying cause.  When exercise is to be employed, specific sciatica exercises for the underlying cause is to be adopted. Sciatic nerve pain may be treated with non-surgical remedies and regular exercise. A more structured treatment program and even surgery may be needed for more severe cases. Other non-surgical options for the treatment of sciatica include:

  • Pain medications
  • Heat/ice
  • Epidural steroid injections
  • Alternative sciatica treatment including chiropractic manipulation, acupuncture and massage therapy

Any type of sciatica treatment should be referred to qualified professional healthcare providers. The health of your nervous system, including the sciatic nerve, is much too important not to pay special attention and care to.

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