The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body. It begins in the low back, goes into the buttocks, and down the back of the leg. The sciatic nerve is made up of multiple nerve roots coming from the low back region.
When the nerve roots are compressed or the sciatic nerve in its entirety is compressed, this can cause pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness going into the buttocks and leg. This condition is referred to as “Sciatica”.
When sciatic pain develops, it can be quite debilitating. However, the good news is that in many cases the condition will improve with treatment and time, and often be completely alleviated.
The first step to treating sciatica is to find out what is causing the condition. Some of the most common causes of sciatica are:
- Disc herniation or degenerative disc disease, can cause direct compression of the nerve roots.
- Facet arthropathy, which is degeneration of the joints of the spine, can also cause compression of the nerve roots.
- Piriformis syndrome, a straining or spasming of the piriformis muscle, and in some cases, the anatomical relationship of the sciatic nerve to the piriformis muscle can also cause the sciatic nerve to be compressed.
Your healthcare professional can help you determine the cause of your condition by obtaining a history of your complaint along with an appropriate examination. This would include orthopedic and neurological testing, as well as in some cases imaging studies.
There are several therapeutic approaches which may be useful for this condition. The use of hot or cold packs, anti-inflammatory medications, manipulation, and stretching exercises have all been shown to be helpful. In more serious cases, it may be necessary to receive anti-inflammatory injections to help reduce the inflammation and remove the compression from the nerve. In the more serious cases it may also be necessary to consult with a neuro or orthopedic surgeon to discuss possible intervention. If you develop sciatic symptoms that last more than a couple days, call your healthcare professional to have your condition evaluated.
In some cases more serious conditions can mimic sciatica. If you develop symptoms into the leg that include redness or swelling, or should you develop weakness in both legs, or have difficulty with bowel or bladder control (incontinence), or have pain or burning with urination, consult your doctor immediately.