Sciatica is a medical term that refers to pain in the back and legs caused by injury of the sciatic nerve. The term sciatica is often used interchangeably with another medical condition – radiculopathy. Radiculopathy refers to pain that travels along the course of a nerve, from the lumber plexus to the leg. Sciatica is often triggered by injury or compression to the sciatic nerve and can cause discomfort. Sciatica is like several other conditions that cause low back pain, which makes it very difficult to tell the condition apart from the rest.
However, unlike the other conditions mentioned above, sciatica causes a specific kind of low back pain. In this condition, the pain extends from the hip, down to the buttocks and thighs, and even to the legs. Another unique thing about sciatica is that the pain usually affects one side of the leg. This is different from causes like arthritis that affect both sides of the body. Some other symptoms associated with sciatica are:
- The pain is usually worse when the individual sits
- Coughing or sneezing may aggravate the pain
- Impaired sensation like numbness, tingly sensations
- This weakness usually affects the muscles supplied by the sciatic nerve, and that is another way that the condition is diagnosed.
The way sciatica manifests differ from person to person, and some people experience severe and debilitating pain. This often makes them unable to function normally. In some others, the pain may come very seldom, and with mild severity. There are also extreme cases, in which sciatica can lead to loss of bowel and bladder control and even complete loss of sensation in the upper thighs.
Sciatica is caused by injury or pressure to the sciatic nerve. This injury usually occurs at the low back, particularly close to the nerve’s origin. This injury could be in the form of irritation at the nerve root(s). Since the nerve originates from both the lumbar and sacral spine, any irritation in these areas can cause sciatica. Other causes of this condition include:
- Spinal stenosis. Spinal stenosis is also known as narrowing of the spinal canal.
- Degenerative disc disease. In this condition, the disc between two vertebrae degenerates, which then reduces the space between them. As a result, they begin to pinch on the nerve.
- Spondylolisthesis (forward or backward shift of one vertebrae bone on another)
- Pressure placed on the sciatic nerve by the uterus and baby during pregnancy can also compress the sciatic nerve and lead to sciatica
- Muscle spasms. Involuntary contractions of the muscles in the back or buttocks.
- Sedentary lifestyle
- High heels have also been identified as an indirect cause of sciatica.
- Spinal tumors. Tumors that grow on the spinal cord can
- Piriformis syndrome