Sciatica: When The Sciatic Nerve Becomes Irritated

What Is Sciatica?

sciatica

Sciatica refers to a sharp lower back pain that can radiate down one or both legs and is caused by compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is a long nerve that begins at the tailbone and runs down the back of both legs. It is a very common condition that mostly affects individuals in their 40’s and 50’s. It is more frequently found in men than in women.

Causes

  • Spinal disc herniation
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Piriformis syndrome
  • Pregnancy
  • Spinal tumors
  • Trauma to the spine
  • Obesity

Types

There is only one type of sciatica.

sciatic nerve pain

Symptoms

  • Lower back pain
  • Pain in the buttocks when sitting
  • Pain in one or both legs
  • Hip pain
  • Burning or tingling in one or both legs
  • Weakness or numbness in one or both legs
  • Difficulty moving the legs or feet
  • Pain in the lower back or buttocks upon standing

Diagnosis

Sciatica can typically be diagnosed through a thorough physical exam by a primary care physician. They will consider your medical history and reported symptoms. Your doctor may have you perform some physical maneuvers, such as a straight leg raise, to see if it produces symptoms. They will likely order diagnostic imaging, such as a CT (computed tomography) scan or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or the lumbar spine to evaluate for spinal stenosis or spinal tumors.

Treatment

Medications and physical therapy can help alleviate the pain and discomfort caused by sciatica. In some cases, surgery is needed to treat the underlying cause, such as a decompressive laminectomy for spinal stenosis or removing a spinal tumor that is causing compression of the sciatic nerve. In many instances, surgery to treat or correct the underlying cause can resolve the sciatica symptoms.

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