The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in your body. It begins in the lower back and extends through the buttocks down the back of each leg to the thighs and feet.
Sciatica is a painful condition caused by the irritation of the sciatic nerve. Sciatica can be acute (short term), lasting for a few weeks or chronic (long term), persisting for more than 3 months. It is important to understand that in most cases, sciatica will resolve itself within a few weeks or months and rarely causes permanent nerve damage.
Anyone can develop sciatica at some point in their lives; however, there are certain risk factors that may predispose you to develop sciatica. These may include:
It is important to know that sciatica is a symptom but not a medical diagnosis. Some medical conditions that can cause sciatica include herniated discs, lumbar spinal stenosis, piriformis syndrome, spondylolisthesis, degenerative disc disease, diabetes, tumours, and trauma.
The most common symptom of sciatica is pain. The pain can vary from mild to debilitating depending on the degree of pressure exerted on the sciatic nerve. Patients having sciatica also experience other symptoms such as:
Sciatica is diagnosed by reviewing your complete medical history, performing a physical examination and assessment of neuromuscular functions. Diagnostic procedures such as X-ray, MRI, CT scan, CT scan with myelogram, electromyogram, and nerve conduction tests may also be ordered.
Sciatica can be treated with conservative approaches such as physical exercises, over-the-counter drugs, ice or hot packs, prescription medications, epidural steroid injections, massages, and manual manipulation.
In some cases, surgery may be recommended to treat the underlying condition causing sciatica such as herniated discs, lumbar spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, and degenerative disc disease.