Sciatica is a painful condition. When the sciatic nerve becomes irritated in any way, pain can shoot down the leg. That pain can make it very difficult to walk. While the pain originates in the lower back, it is possible for the back not to hurt when this happens. Despite sciatica not being an actual medical diagnosis, it is a term that is used to describe a symptom. Herniated discs, spondylolisthesis, disc disease, and spinal stenosis can be causes of sciatic nerve pain.
Symptoms of Sciatica
Sciatica has a number of symptoms. They are:
- Constant pain in one side in the leg and/or buttock
- Pain that increases when sitting
- Pain that is described as searing, burning, or tingling
- Pain that can radiate down the leg as far as the foot
- Pain that is so sharp that it can be difficult to stand or walk
- Numbness or weakness in the leg that can make it difficult to move the foot or toes
- Being unable to sleep on one side of the body
The pain can vary from intense and infrequent to constant and debilitating. The exact symptoms are determined by where the nerve is pinched. Fortunately, it is rare that permanent damage to the sciatic nerve will occur. It is also rare that the spinal cord is involved. Usually, the muscles around the nerve irritate it. If lumbar segment 5 (L5) is pinched, then the weakness and pain can extend down that leg to the big toe. The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body, so irritation can cause a great deal of discomfort.
When Sciatica Is a Problem
Most people don’t experience sciatica before the age of 20 unless there is long-term irritation. Most people that develop the problem do so between the ages of 40 and 50, sometimes older. It is rare that sciatica symptoms require immediate medical care or surgery. However, leg weakness or bowel or bladder issues can result in a need for some kind of treatment, which could include surgery. There are also issues that can cause sciatica, such as spinal tumors and infections.
Due to sciatica being caused by underlying medical conditions, treatment is focused on addressing the cause rather than just the symptoms. Addressing just the symptoms doesn’t control the cause, which means the issue could worsen over time. While treatment is usually self-care, there are sometimes exceptions.
A number of conditions can cause sciatica. Degenerative disc disease, herniated discs, lumbar spinal stenosis, isthmic spondylolisthesis, sacroiliac joint dysfunction, and piriformis syndrome are all causes. However, pregnancy can cause an acute case. There may even be scar tissue, a spinal tumor, muscle damage or strain, fracture, or infection. It is important to seek medical evaluation to determine the cause since the cause can be another harmful condition. There are many causes of sciatica, and it’s important to isolate the exact cause so the right treatment can be ordered, whether that treatment is self-care or full medical intervention.