Sciatica is a condition involving a set of symptoms arising from irritation or compression of the nerve roots that give rise to the sciatic nerve. These spinal nerves consist of five set of nerve roots from the lumbar to the sacral area that give rise to the left or right sciatic nerves. Sciatica may also develop as a result of direct irritation and compression of both the sciatic nerves.
Sciatica is a common form of leg pain and back pain; however, it is not a diagnosis per se, but a term to describe the set of symptoms arising from the condition.
Symptoms of Sciatica
The main symptom of sciatica is the presence of pain that may arise in the lower back, legs, buttocks or feet. The pain usually arises from the compression of the nerve roots sensitizing the pain receptor or nociceptors along the area. The pain is described as a sharp, shooting and searing pain along the leg or foot and described as heaviness along the lower back and buttocks. The pain originates from the back then continues along the path of the nerves leading to pain in the back of the thigh up to the foot. The pain usually becomes more severe in cold weather and during sitting or standing, but is relieved through walking or lying down. The pain is also commonly felt in one side of the body, but may involve both sides when the right and left sciatic nerves are affected. The pain also tends to occur continuously.
Aside from pain, there are other symptoms involved in sciatica. Numbness and tingling sensations on the buttocks, leg and foot is also a common manifestation. These symptoms develop since the nerves are responsible for the sensations in the surface of the skin. When the nerves are compressed or irritated, it results in the feeling of abnormal sensation in the affected lower limb starting from the buttocks down to the affected leg and foot..
The sciatic nerves are not only responsible for the sensory functioning of the lower limbs, but the motor function as well. As a result, patients with sciatica may also feel muscular weakness and difficulty in moving the leg.
The symptoms of sciatica usually dictate the management to be employed. Depending on the level of pain and the root cause of the condition, managements are carefully chosen to address the specific etiology.
There are various causes of sciatica leading to the compression of the spinal nerves or the sciatic nerves itself. Spinal disc herniation is a common cause of sciatica, which may also involve considerable back pain. Another cause may include spondylolisthesis or the enlarging and misalignment of the vertebrae. Degeneration of the spinal discs can also lead to such as a result of narrowing of the spaces where nerve roots exit the spine.
Spinal stenosis or the narrowing of the space where the spinal cord runs through is also a major cause of sciatica. Not only it can result to such, but it can also lead to cauda equine syndrome, a more serious and debilitating compression of the nerve bundles. Piriformis syndrome or the shortening and spasmodic reactions in the piriformis muscles may also lead to sciatica. The Piriformis muscles lie adjacent to the sciatic nerves so any spasms in the muscle group can compress the underlying nerves.
Sciatica symptoms usually respond to managements as long as treatments are employed early to prevent irreversible damage to the sciatic nerves.