What is sciatica?

The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body and sciatica is nerve pain which occurs due to irritation of the sciatic nerve. The pain which might feel like a bad leg cramp, or can be a shooting pain that makes standing or sitting nearly impossible, is typically felt from the lower back to behind the thigh and radiates down below the knee. If you have sciatica you might experience weakness, numbness, or a burning or tingling sensation down your leg, or even in your toes. You may also experience an inability to bend your knee or move your foot and toes. Sciatica can occur suddenly or it can develop gradually.

What are the causes of sciatica?

Sciatica is usually the symptom of a 'pinched nerve' affecting one or more of the lower spinal nerves. The nerve might be pinched inside or outside of the spinal canal as it passes through the leg.

Some causes of sciatica include:

  • A herniated or slipped disc: which is the most common cause of sciatica that causes pressure on a nerve root.
  • Piriformis syndrome: which occurs when the small piriformis muscle, which lies deep in the buttocks, becomes tight and spasms, thus putting pressure on and irritating the sciatic nerve.
  • Spinal stenosis: that results from narrowing of the spinal canal which puts pressure on the nerves.
  • Spondylolisthesis: that occurs when one vertebra slips, so that it is out of line with the one above it, narrowing the opening through which the sciatic nerve exits.

What are the risk factors of sciatica?

The risk factors for sciatica include:

  • changes in the spine due to advancing age, such as herniated disks and bone spurs
  • being obese which stresses the spine
  • sitting for prolonged periods
  • leading a sedentary lifestyle
  • diabetes
  • jobs which require you to carry heavy loads, drive for long periods, repeatedly twist your back etc.

What are the symptoms of sciatica? How is sciatica diagnosed?

Common symptoms of sciatica include:

  • lower back pain
  • pain in the rear or leg that is worse when sitting
  • hip pain
  • burning or tingling in the leg
  • weakness, numbness, or difficulty moving the leg or foot
  • a constant pain on one side of the rear
  • a shooting pain that makes it difficult to stand up