The word "sciatica" is a symptom that can occur in various medical conditions, rather than being a disease itself. The definition of sciatica is pain that is experienced in the outer and back side of the thigh. From the thigh, sciatica often sends sharp or shooting, burning pain down into the back of the lower leg, and from there into the ankle or foot. In many cases, sciatica also causes a loss of feeling or abnormal sensations in the affected leg. These can include tingling, prickling sensations, or feelings like pins and needles are poking deep into the leg.
Other names are sometimes used to describe sciatica. These include terms like:
One frequent cause of sciatica is a herniated or slipped disc. When one of the intervertebral discs in the lower back or lumbar area of the spine herniates, it can compress the sciatic nerve. Any time spinal nerves are injured, irritated, or inflamed, symptoms such as pain and changes in sensation are likely to occur along the path of the affected nerves.
The sciatic nerve is very large. When it is inflamed, the hips, thighs, legs and feet can be affected by sciatica because this large nerve communicates with the brain about pain and other feeling sensations. Sciatica can also lead to muscle weakness due to nerve dysfunction.
A classic and the most commonly reported complaint associated with the symptoms of sciatica is pain that is located in the buttocks. Usually the painful symptoms of sciatica start in the lower or lumbar portion of the back, but the worst of the pain is often felt in the hip, moving down the back or outside of the thigh. From the hip and thigh, the pain moves into the lower calf and even into the ankle and foot.
Symptoms of sciatica are not identical in every person. Pain may be experienced anywhere the nerve is located, but typically it runs along the path travelling from the lower back to the buttock, and from the buttock down the back of the thigh. Most of the time, the symptoms of sciatica are limited to only one side of the lower body, but they can occur on both sides or bilaterally. Know more about sciatica symptoms...
Most of the time, sciatica resolves on its own in less than six weeks without specific medical intervention. Mild, over-the-counter medications can be used in most cases to help control inflammation and decrease the pain of sciatica. Applying ice or mild heat may also be beneficial for symptomatic relief. Prolonged rest is not recommended to treat sciatica. It's best to try to continue your normal activities as much as possible.
Approximately 90% of patients who have sciatica will test positive in the straight leg raise test. In about three-quarters of patients whose straight leg lift test is positive, some condition other than sciatica is producing the pain. For this reason, in some situations other conditions must be ruled out as a cause for lower back pain that radiates into the lower body. Some of these conditions can be very serious and may even become life threatening. They can include: