What is it?
Sciatica is nerve pain arising from the sciatic nerve. It can be produced by pressure on the nerve, where it passes through the buttock. Sciatica can be brought on by sitting on a hard seat. When your leg goes to sleep, that is also a form of sciatica.
The sciatic nerve is a large nerve, formed from nerve roots that originate from the spinal cord. These nerve roots pass out between the disc spaces and join up to form the sciatic nerve. It passes from the spine into the buttock, then into the back of the thigh and leg.
The sciatic nerve controls sensation and function to the leg and foot. In sciatica, prolapsed or ‘slipped’ discs tend to bulge and press on the intervertebral nerve(s). This pressure irritates the nerve, causing referred pain.
Most cases resolve by themselves within six weeks to three months. Sciatica can also be caused by narrowing of the nerve tunnel between discs due to osteoarthritis. Elderly people who suffer from disk degeneration as a consequence of ageing tend to be troubled the most by sciatica.
The causes include spinal injury or trauma, bone spurs or other growths, narrowing of the spinal canal, or tight or swollen muscles in the buttock. In many cases, people can’t pinpoint a specific injury that caused the condition.
The pain associated with sciatica can be caused by a number of underlying conditions. These may include:
- herniated (bulging) disc in the lower back
- bony growths on the spine
- arthritis in the low back or hip
- tight muscles in the buttock or trauma to the lower back
- pregnancy, due to changes in the pelvis and lower back.
Symptoms may be constant or intermittent, depending on activities or time of day.
The symptoms include:
- hot pain in the buttock
- aching in the buttock, back of the thigh (hamstring) and calf
- pain in the ankle and foot
- pins and needles
- increased pain when lifting, straining or coughing
- loss of power to the muscles of the leg and foot.
Sciatica that doesn’t resolve itself after a few days needs medical attention. Professional treatment for sciatica includes:
- medication, including pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory medication
- physical therapy, including electrical stimulation of the back muscles
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