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What is the Sciatic Nerve?

The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in your body. It begins in the lower back and extends through the buttocks down the back of each leg to the thighs and feet.

What is Sciatica?

Sciatica is a painful condition caused by the irritation of the sciatic nerve. Sciatica can be acute (short term), lasting for a few weeks or chronic (long term), persisting for more than 3 months. It is important to understand that in most cases, sciatica will resolve itself within a few weeks or months and rarely causes permanent nerve damage.

Risk Factors for Sciatica

Anyone can develop sciatica at some point in their lives; however, there are certain risk factors that may predispose you to develop sciatica. These may include:

  • Increased age
  • Poor physical fitness or inactive lifestyle
  • Occupational risks
  • Genetics
  • Poor nutrition
  • Medical conditions such as diabetes or cancer that has metastasized to the spine
  • Smoking

Causes of Sciatica

It is important to know that sciatica is a symptom but not a medical diagnosis. Some medical conditions that can cause sciatica include herniated discs, lumbar spinal stenosis, piriformis syndrome, spondylolisthesis, degenerative disc disease, diabetes, tumors, and trauma.

Symptoms of Sciatica

The most common symptom of sciatica is pain. The pain can vary from mild to debilitating depending on the degree of pressure exerted on the sciatic nerve. Patients having sciatica also experience other symptoms such as:

  • Pain in the buttock area and leg
  • Sharp, intense, shooting pain down the leg
  • Numbness, burning or tingling sensation in the leg or foot
  • Weakness of the leg or foot
  • Lower back pain that radiates down the buttock and leg
  • Pain that increases with coughing, sneezing or straining
  • Pain that increases with bending backward and with prolonged sitting or standing

Diagnosis of Sciatica

Sciatica is diagnosed by reviewing your complete medical history, performing a physical examination and assessment of neuromuscular functions. Diagnostic procedures such as X-ray, MRI, CT scan, CT scan with myelogram, electromyogram, and nerve conduction tests may also be ordered.

Treatment of Sciatica

Sciatica can be treated with conservative approaches such as physical exercises, over-the-counter drugs, ice or hot packs, prescription medications, epidural steroid injections, massages, and manual manipulation.

In some cases, surgery may be recommended to treat the underlying condition causing sciatica such as herniated discs, lumbar spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, and degenerative disc disease.

Useful Links

  • American Academy Of Orthopaedic Surgeons
  • Cervical Spine Research Society
  • Scolliosis Research Society
  • The International Society For the Study Of the Lumbar Spine
  • North American Spine Society
  • Orthopaedic Trauma Association
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