Common sciatica causes all have one thing in common, they irritate the sciatic nerve or the nerve roots that form the sciatic nerve.
Sciatica causes may be variable, but the most common symptom is pain.
•Lumbar Spinal Stenosis
•Lumbar Disc Herniation
These are the three most common causes of sciatica which may cause symptoms such as pain, and numbness, or weakness radiating into your buttocks and thighs.
They can occur on one or both sides, and may also extend down into your lower legs and feet.
Other symptoms can include tingling, or a needles and pins sensation anywhere from your buttocks to your toes.
The most common cause of lumbar spinal stenosis is arthritis in your lumbar spine. When you develop arthritis the facet joints in your low back become inflamed and overgrown like any other arthritic joint.
Lumbar Spinal Stenosis
Image thanks to A.E. Francis viaWikimedia Commons
Pressing on a Nerve
When this swelling and bony overgrowth grows into the space for the nerves, and starts putting pressure on the nerves, you can develop the symptoms of sciatica. As the arthritis grows worse so does the pain and other symptoms.
It is common for people with lumbar spinal stenosis to have back pain as well as pain or other symptoms in their lower extremities.
Your lumbar disc is like a little shock absorber that fits between each vertebra in your lumbar spine. The outer part of the disc, call the annulus, is a ligament kind of material that connects the vertebra together. The inner part of the disc, called the nucleus pulposis, is a spongy kind of material that can be compressed and allows a small amount of motion between the vertebra.
Pressing on a Nerve
When you have a disc herniation part of the soft inner disc is pushed out through a crack in the annulus. This can cause back pain and if the piece of disc is pressing on a nerve it may cause the symptoms of sciatica.
The two most common sciatica causes are stenosis and disc herniation. When your symptoms are mild you could treat each of these with physical therapy, over the counter pain medications, and time.
If your symptoms are more severe and prevent normal activity you may need to consider more aggressive treatments. Surgery for spinal stenosis and discs herniations are often very successful allowing people to return to normal activity.
When you have stenosis you may find certain positions that are more comfortable. When you are sitting it opens up the space for the nerves and may relieve your lower extremity symptoms. When you stand or walk it closes down the space for the nerves and may make your symptoms worse.
You May Consider Surgery
Lumbar disc herniations can occur at any age but are more common under the age of 30. When the symptoms are not severe this can often be treated with physical therapy, pain medication, and time. When the symptoms are more severe and prevents you from living your life you may decide to have surgery. Surgery for this type of problem is often very successful.
The piriformis muscle is a small muscle that externally rotates your hip. It lays across the top of the sciatic nerve in your mid buttock and in some people the sciatic nerve runs through the piriformis muscle.
This small muscle works in coordination with several larger muscle groups in your buttock and thigh. It is often overpowered by the larger muscles and can easily be stretched or strained. When the piriformis muscle becomes swollen or inflamed it puts pressure on the sciatic nerve causing the symptoms of sciatica.
Piriformis Syndrome is more difficult to treat and in most cases surgery is not helpful. Special stretching programs, steroid injections, and limited activity are usually the most helpful.