Sciatica refers to leg pain that is felt along the distribution of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is the longest and widest nerve of the body that originates in the spinal cord nerve roots L4-S2 (in your backbone), one on both sides, travels along the hip, all the way to the foot. It supplies the skin on the sides of the legs and full feet and the muscles on the back of your thighs and the legs. So the conditions, irritating or compressing the nerve anywhere from its origin in the back up to the feet, can cause pain that could be severe, shooting, or dull, aching with or without sensory changes and weakness, felt in the legs and feet, usually, on one side of the body.
Sciatica can be caused by Spinal disc herniation, spinal stenosis, pelvic tumors, pregnancy, Spondylolisthesis, etc. It is treated by medicines, physiotherapy, eradicating the underlying causes and changes in posture and lifestyle. The pain usually subsides within a few weeks, but further investigations or surgery may be required for prolonged cases, accompanied by signs of serious underlying diseases or loss of bowel and bladder control.
Your spinal cord is protected and enclosed by the vertebral column, also known as a backbone or spine, which consists of a series of segmented bones, called vertebrae, separated by intervertebral discs. The nerves originating from the spinal cord make their way through the passages made by the segmented vertebra. The vertebra and the intervertebral discs can be subjected to wear and tear, resulting n the compression of the nerves. The diseases involving the vertebral column can cause sciatica and include the following;
Having one or more of the following risk factors may increase your chances of having sciatica.
Sciatica is a very common complaint. Around 1% to 40% of people experience sciatica at some point in their lives. People are most commonly affected between the ages of 40 and 59. It is more prevalent in men than in women.
The symptoms of sciatica are as follows;
Your doctor can make a diagnosis based on the history of a radiating pain that starts from your lower spine, is felt through the buttock, and goes down the back of your leg. He will then perform a physical examination, eliciting signs that may point towards sciatica and nerve root irritation or compression.
The most important of these tests is the Straight leg raise test, in which you would be asked to lie down straight on the testbed and raise your leg, one at a time. The doctor may flex the hip and extend the knee. Any of these maneuvers can cause the same pain as that of sciatica. You may also be asked to perform some actions to test for your muscles' strength and pain, like standing on your toes, rising from a squatting position, etc.
When the pain does not resolve in a few weeks, or there are some alarming signs like fever, weight loss, bladder or bowel control loss, you may be asked to undergo the following tests;
The following conditions can present like sciatica and must be ruled out.
Multiple modalities are used to treat sciatica. It includes the use of pain killers, muscle relaxants, bed rest or physiotherapy, finding out and treating the underlying cause, losing weight, improving posture and mobility.
Pain is relieved in most patients within a few weeks. Some patients may have a relapse of pain. About 39 to 50% of people reported symptoms even after 1 to 4 years. Some people may need surgery for their pain. According to a report, 10% of people require surgery for their pain.
Sciatica is a chronic condition. None of the treatments provide a 100% cure. People may still complain of pain even after treatment. We need to know the precipitating factors causing sciatica and adopt important lifestyle changes to prevent it.
Our clinical experts continually monitor the health and medical content posted on CURA4U, and we update our blogs and articles when new information becomes available. Last reviewed by Dr.Saad Zia on May 08, 2023.