sciaticaSciatica is a phrase used to explain leg pain that radiates from your back into your buttock, and down the back of your leg. It is a normal term utilized to explain symptoms rather than an actual physical condition. Normally, the pain is caused by stress on the nerve roots in your lower back. Doctors often call it lumbar radiculopathy, implying that the pain begins in the spinal nerve roots and “radiates” to your leg. Pending on the cause, acute sciatica typically resolves with rest, activity, and other self-care measures. Some people suffer from persistent pain that continues despite treatment. You play a necessary role in the avoidance and healing process of leg pain. Strong, flexible muscles help to promote a healthy back that preserves good alignment, allows movement, and provides structural support.

Anatomy of the back

The sciatic nerve is formed from the spinal nerves in the lumbar and sacral regions of the spine. The spinal nerves are numbered according to the vertebrae above which it exits the spinal canal. The spinal nerves L4 to S3 form the sciatic nerve. You have two sciatic nerves, one on each side, which travel through the pelvis and down the back of each leg where it divides into the peroneal and tibial nerves. This nerve supplies feeling and motor control of your legs and feet.

Types of Leg Pain

Leg pain ranges from mild to extreme, and is classified as either acute or chronic. Acute sciatic pain often relates to soft tissue injury (e.g., sprains of muscles, tendons, or ligaments) or disc herniation. Acute pain occurs suddenly and generally heals within numerous days to weeks. Its intensity relates immediately to the extent of tissue injury and resolves with over time. It is regularly called acute physical back pain, since the source of the pain may be in the spinal joints, discs, vertebrae, or soft tissues. Persistent sciatic pain persists (lasts more than 3 months) and its source may be hard to determine. Chronic pain may be present all the time, or worsen with specified activities, poor posture, and inappropriate body mechanics. Other adding factors may be related to nerve cell changes, tissue scarring, arthritic changes, or psychological effects of chronic pain. In some cases, the complexity of chronic symptoms requires consultation with medical specialists.

What are the symptoms?

Classic sciatic pain alters one leg, starts in the low back and buttocks, travels down the back of the thigh, past the knee to the foot. The leg pain is worse than the back discomfort. Your pain may range in strength from mildly annoying to severe. It’s regularly described as pressure or burning pain, and some individuals even adventure shooting pain. You may also feel numbness or tingling (pins-and-needles) in your leg and foot, which normally is not a cause for concern unless you have weak point in your leg muscles. Sitting generally induces the most pain because in this position your discs have more weight on them. Tasks such as bending or twisting normally make your pain worse, and lying down usually tends to relieve the pain. You may literally feel stronger if you walk or run rather than sit or stand for too prolonged. If you encounter extreme leg weakness or frustration controlling bladder or bowel function, a problem called cauda equina syndrome, you should seek medical help right away.

What are the causes?

There are multiple possible causes of sciatic pain and they all stem from compression or discomfort of the sciatic nerve roots:
  • Injury or trauma: A significant force can stress the frameworks of the spine, for example, sports injury, or fall. Fractures, such as vertebral compression fractures, can result. A tear in the muscles and ligaments of the back may predispose the discs to bulge or herniate.

  • Bulging and herniated disc: The gel-like material throughout the disc can bulge or rupture with a weak area in the encompassing wall (annulus). Irritation, pain, and swelling occur when this material squeezes out and comes in contact with a spinal nerve.

  • Stenosis: Narrowing of the spinal canal and nerve root canals occurs as discs bulge or protrude, facet joints enlarge, and ligaments stiffen over time. As the spinal canal narrows, it compresses the cord and nerves, leading to them to swell and inflame.

  • Osteoarthritis (degenerative disc disease): As discs naturally wear out, bone spurs form and the facet joints inflame. The discs dry out and shrink, losing their flexibility and cushioning properties. The disc spaces get smaller. These changes lead to stenosis or disc herniation.

  • Spondylolysis: A weak spot or stress fracture creates in one of the bony bridges that are connected the upper and lower facet joints./dt_list_item]

  • Spondylolisthesis: A weak spot in the muscles and ligaments predisposes the vertebra to slip out of normal position. Leg pain can also be caused by a joint problem (e.g., arthritis) in the hip or sacroiliac joint. This type of pain (called referred pain) is quite common, but is not sciatica. Identifying the appropriate problem is important because the treatments for each type of pain may differ.