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What is Sciatica?

Nicole Madison
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Sciatica is a painful condition that affects the lower back and the leg. Experienced when the sciatic nerve becomes irritated, sciatica leads to pain that is typically felt on just one side of the body. Besides discomfort, sciatica is known to cause numbness in the affected regions of the body, as well as trouble with controlling the leg.

When a person has sciatica, pain radiates from the lower back down to the thigh, extending downward to the back of the calf. In some cases, pain from sciatica flows upward as well, affecting the hip, and back down toward the foot. For many affected individuals, the pain is enough to impair the performance of everyday tasks.

As the largest nerve in the human body, the sciatic nerve has great range, extending from the lumbar spinal cord down through the leg. Frequently, this nerve becomes irritated due to pressure caused by a herniated disc. Symptoms can be caused by anything that inflames or irritates the sciatic nerve. Such irritation can come from internal bleeding and infections, as well as pressure from bones in the region. Injuries and muscle spasms may also lead to sciatica.

This condition is fairly common during pregnancy. In the final months of pregnancy, the weight of the uterus may exert pressure on the sciatic nerve. Changes in posture may lead to pregnancy–related sciatic as well. In some cases, muscular tension, commonly experienced during late pregnancy, may be enough to trigger a bout of sciatica.

A diagnosis simply recognizes the symptoms that are present. It does not specifically address what is causing the painful condition. In order for a diagnosis to be complete, it must uncover the cause of the irritation to the sciatic nerve.

To diagnose it, a physician typically performs a medical examination and learns the patient’s medical history. X-rays, computed axial tomography (CAT) scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans may be used in diagnosis, as well. Proper diagnosis is very important, as treatment may be incomplete or unsuccessful if the causes of irritation to the sciatic nerve are not discovered.

Treatments vary, depending on the cause of the nerve compression. They can include anti-inflammatory and pain medications, physical therapy, and surgery to relieve sciatic compression. Chiropractic manipulation and steroidal injections may be used as well.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a The Health Board writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.
Discussion Comments
By ysmina — On Jan 19, 2014

I had to get a steroid injection for sciatica recently. I wasn't too happy about it but my doctor felt that it was necessary. Now I'm glad that I had the injection because it has made a huge difference. It took over a week to experience the full effects, but once it kicked in, it worked very quickly. My sciatica pain just disappeared.

As far as I know, sciatica relief from steroid injections can last anywhere from six months to two years. I just hope I won't need an injection again.

By fBoyle — On Jan 19, 2014

@SarahGen-- Yes, it can happen. Have you seen a doctor? Numbness and tingling in the legs and feet are symptoms of sciatica. But you need medical testing to figure out the underlying cause. Sciatica problems occur due to a pinched nerve, but like the article said, a hernia or an injury may be responsible as well.

I had sciatica symptoms last month due to a muscle spasm. It was quite painful. I had numbness and pain in my left leg for several weeks. Muscle relaxants and pain relievers helped me get through it.

By SarahGen — On Jan 18, 2014

Can sciatica symptoms affect both legs? I have numbness and tingling in both of my legs.

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a The Health Board writer, where she focuses on topics like...
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