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A Primer on Sciatica

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Sciatica affects the sciatic nerve, which starts in your lower back and runs through your buttocks and down each leg. Sciatica develops when a muscle squeezes or pinches down on the nerve, which results in pain and discomfort.

What are the symptoms of sciatica?

Common symptoms of sciatica include:

  • Pain that is on one side of the lower back or buttocks. It can also radiate down each leg and reach the ankles and the feet. Sciatica rarely occurs in both legs, but it is possible.
  • Pain that worsens when sitting or standing up quickly. This pain can make you feel like you cannot stand or can even cause you to feel like you are going to fall over.
  • Occasionally, sciatica can cause numbness, tingling, or feeling of falling asleep in the lower back, buttocks, or down to the knee of the affected leg.

Which conditions are related to sciatica?

There are several conditions that can show up alongside sciatica. For example, slipped discs, lumbar spinal stenosis, and degenerative disc diseases are most commonly associated with sciatica.

During pregnancy, a growing baby can put pressure on the muscles that surround the sciatic nerve, causing it to become pinched. Similarly, obesity can put pressure on the sciatic nerve and lead to pain.

Scar tissue, growing tumors, muscle strains, and spinal infections can also contribute to sciatica.

How is sciatica diagnosed?

A doctor will generally be able to diagnose sciatica through a physical exam as well as knowledge of your medical history. There is no specific testing for sciatica, but your doctor may use other tests to rule out other problems that may be the cause of pain and to pinpoint a related condition that could be contributing to sciatic pain.

How is sciatica treated?

The most common treatment for sciatica is a combination of physical therapy and pain relievers. Heat and ice may be applied to the area of the sciatic nerve to help make the muscle contract while releasing the pinched nerve. For more severe cases, some individuals receive steroid injections. Rarely, surgery is used to correct the issue, but this is generally used to fix the issue that is causing sciatica to occur.