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Sciatica: What Is It and What Causes It?

Sciatica: What Is It and What Causes It?

A couple of years ago, we published a blog post discussing sciatica as one of the most common complaints in pain management. The post got a lot of attention from our regular readers. With that in mind, we thought we would put together another post offering a few more details. Needless to say, sciatica pain can be quite uncomfortable.

The curious thing about sciatica is that the pain it causes can radiate quite a distance from the point of the actual injury. Note that the sciatic nerves are located on either side of the lower back. Depending on the cause of the pain, it can be felt all the way down into the foot.

Sciatica can be debilitating – at least temporarily. The good news is that most cases of sciatica resolve on their own with rest and good self-care practices.

More About Sciatica

What we routinely called sciatica is not officially defined as a medical condition. When we use the term, we are actually referring to sciatic pain. This is pain being caused by some sort of issue with the sciatic nerve. The nerve could be inflamed; it could be injured; it could even be diseased.

At this point, it is important to point out that the sciatic nerve at each side of your back isn’t just a single nerve with a single root. Each sciatic nerve actually has five roots. The main sciatic nerve begins in the hip and runs down to just below the knee. Then it branches out into four additional nerve roots that travel down your leg, through your foot, and all the way to the toes.

In most cases of sciatica, the pain originates in the upper portion of the nerve. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Any inflammation or injury along the sciatic nerve can cause pain. The pain can be anywhere from mild to severe. Some cases of sciatica also result in temporary muscle weakness and/or numbness.

What Causes Sciatica

The most common cause of sciatica is a herniated disc in the lower back. That disc puts pressure on the nerve root. It turns out roughly 20% of all adults will suffer from a herniated disc at some point in their lives. Many of them will only know because of a sciatica diagnosis.

Here are some other conditions that can cause sciatic pain:

  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Spondylolisthesis
  • Spinal growths
  • Spinal trauma.

A few other very rare conditions can lead to sciatica as well, but this post will not mention them for lack of space. Needless to say, sciatic pain has many causes. It takes a skilled physician with experience in lower back issues to figure out exactly what is at the root of the pain.

Sciatica Symptoms

Sciatica is easily confused with other forms of back pain because its symptoms are similar to other conditions. Sciatica patients tend to experience pain in the lower back and buttocks. The pain can radiate all the way down the line. Other symptoms include:

  • numbness, tingling, or weakness
  • a feeling of pins and needles
  • increased pain with movement.

A doctor will diagnose sciatica through a combination of asking questions, performing a physical exam and, where necessary, ordering diagnostic tests. The purpose for ordering diagnostic tests is to rule out other conditions.

As far as painful conditions go, sciatica is considered very low risk. You are essentially looking at a pinched nerve. The good news is that there are plenty of options for treating the condition. We can tell you all about them when you visit our Weatherford pain clinic.

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