Sciatica is a condition characterized by a group of symptoms caused by pressure or damage to the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is one of the longest nerves in the body, extending from the lower back to the foot, passing through the buttock and the back of the leg.
Sciatica may be caused by lumbar spinal disorders such as a herniated disc, spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease, spondylosis, spondylolisthesis (degenerative or isthmic) or a vertebral compression fracture. Other factors that may contribute to sciatica include trauma to the back, poor posture, irregular or no exercise, prolonged sitting, improper body mechanics, nerve damage (diabetes), and smoking.
The most common symptom of sciatica is pain that originated in the lower back and radiates to your buttock and the back of the leg. The pain can vary from a mild ache to totally unbearable sharp shooting pain which feels like an electric shock. The pain is usually present on only one side of the lower body. The pain is aggravated by sneezing, coughing, and sitting. You may also experience numbness or muscle weakness in your leg or a difficulty in moving your lower back. Rarely, you may also develop bowel or bladder dysfunction, a sign of cauda equina syndrome, which is a serious condition and requires immediate emergency care.
An accurate diagnosis of sciatica and an effective treatment plan are important for a successful outcome. The diagnosis of sciatica is based on your symptoms, medical history and a physical and neurological examination. Your doctor will test your reflexes, muscle strength, sensations and check for any sign of neurological injury. Your doctor may also order imaging tests such as X-rays to help identity the sciatic nerve compression. An X-ray may show the degenerative spine changes while a CT or MRI scan provides detailed images of bone, disc and nerves of the spine.
Most cases of sciatica usually resolve on its own. Treatment for sciatica depends on the underlying cause. The conservative treatment options include bed rest, alternating cold and hot packs, activity modifications, anti-inflammatory and pain medications, muscle relaxants, spinal injections, braces, physical therapy, and acupuncture. In addition, changing certain lifestyle habits and adapting healthy spine habits can help reduce sciatica symptoms and possibly prevent a relapse of sciatica. Spine surgery may be considered if the symptoms persist despite non-surgical treatment.
Consult your doctor if you have any queries regarding sciatica. Your doctor is a reliable source to answer all your questions and help you understand the condition better.