Sciatica is a term for a symptom rather than a condition. It is basically caused when the sciatic nerve becomes irritated; sciatica is the tingling or pain felt in the legs that is a result of the sciatic nerve being irritated. Most individuals state that the sensation of sciatica is located in the lower back and then radiates down through the back portions of the thigh and continues to run down to just below the knee. This pain or tingling feeling is felt where the sciatic nerve is located. The sciatic nerve is rooted in the lower portion of the back called the lumbar cord; it extends through the buttock so that it can send more nerve endings through the lower limb. Another term frequently used for sciatica is sciatic nerve pain.
Most of the time sciatica is diagnosed as part of a regular physical exam in which the physician checks the reflexes and strength of the muscles. For the individual who has sciatica, lying flat on their back and lifting one leg straight up into the air can mean unbearable pain. Sciatica can worsen when performing tasks such as walking on the heels or toes or when squatting. If the doctor suspects that an individual has sciatica, they may order an x-ray, CT scan or an MRI to find out the underlying cause.
Any time the sciatic nerve becomes pinched or has undue pressure, sciatica can occur. A very common cause is when a herniated disc occurs in the spine and puts additional pressure on the sciatic nerve. A bone spur located on the vertebrae can also cause sciatica. There are more rare instances where a tumor is located in the region and pressure is put on the sciatic nerve causing sciatica. Any time there is an injury or an infection that puts pressure on the sciatic nerve, or causes pressure to be applied sciatica is likely to occur. Basically any time direct pressure is applied to the sciatic nerve, sciatica results.
There are quite a few symptoms commonly associated with sciatica. This type of nerve pain usually begins in the lower back in the region of the root of the sciatic nerve. Some individuals state that they have constant pain which is located on just one side of the back, the leg or buttock. Rarely an individual may complain of pain in both legs, but that is not typically the case. Unlike some back pain, sciatica tends to get worse when seated. Other individuals do not have any “pain” associated with sciatica, but they experience a sensation such as burning or tingling. Many simply find that one leg is weak or numb which can lead to limited mobility in the affected limb. However, the most commonly described symptom is a constant pain that runs down one side of the rear. This intense pain can make it difficult to walk or even to stand. Sciatica pain may be infrequent or constant but many people find its intensity debilitating. The specific symptoms will vary according to the individual. It may exhibit a huge difference in type, location or severity of pain. Most of the time these are influenced directly by the condition which is causing sciatica.
Since the spine changes as the body ages, sciatica can be directly related to one’s age. Elderly individuals are also more likely to develop a herniated disc or a bone spur that could be a direct cause. Obesity can also cause increased stress or pressure on the spine as the excessive weight can trigger sciatica due to various spinal changes. Individuals who practice a sedentary lifestyle may be more likely to experience sciatica than those who are more active.