Sciatica is a symptom. It refers to the pain that radiates down the sciatic nerve from your lower back to your hips and buttocks and down the leg. Characteristically, sciatica affects only one side of your body. Sciatic pain might feel like a bad leg cramp, or it can be a severe shooting pain that makes standing or sitting nearly impossible. “Sciatica, when not resolved, can affect your ability to enjoy your usual daily activities such as walking and exercising- it can even make driving a car a painful experience,” says Dallas Pain Management Specialists Pablo Zeballos and Mark LeDoux.
Pain from sciatica can come on suddenly or slowly develop and may feel worse when sitting, sneezing or coughing, or walking. In addition to pain, some may also feel numbness, weakness, burning, or a tingling sensation from the leg to the toes. Sometimes it can feel like a jolt or an electric shock. Even in cases where the pain is severe, it tends to resolve without surgery and with alternative treatments within a few weeks. However, those who have severe weakness in their legs or are suffering from bowel and bladder changes might benefit from surgery.
The most common cause of sciatica is a herniated or slipped disc that causes pressure on one or more of the lower spinal nerves, in a sense “pinching” the nerve. Spinal stenosis is a condition that results from the narrowing of the spinal canal. This can put pressure on the nerves and cause sciatica.
Spondylolisthesis is the slippage of one vertebra that becomes out of line with other vertebrae, narrowing the opening the nerve passes through. This causes opportunity for the nerve to pinch.
Piriformis syndrome develops when the small muscle that lies deep in the buttocks, the piriformis muscle, spasms and puts pressure on the sciatic nerve.
Risk Factors Include:
- Obesity – Increases stress on the spine contributing to spinal changes that cause sciatica.
- Age – Increases chances of herniated disks and bone spurs that are common causes of sciatica.
- Sitting – Those with sedentary lifestyles are more likely to develop sciatica.
- Diabetes – Increases your risk of nerve damage, therefore, causing sciatica pain.
- Poor posture – Increases the amount of pressure on the lower spine, potentially pinching nerves.
Some causes of sciatica are not preventable, such as degenerative disc disease, accidental falls, or back strain from pregnancy.
The goal of treatment for sciatica is to decrease pain and increase movement. A treatment plan will include rest, physical therapy, and medicine. After approximately six weeks of a non-surgical treatment plan, most people will find relief. Surgery is an option for those who do not respond to traditional treatment, are having worsening symptoms, or whose pain is severe and not responding to medicine.