What is Sciatica?
How do I know if I have it?

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What is sciatica? Sciatica is a symptom. Sciatica is not a diagnosis or a disease. 

But, before we get started with sciatica let's back up a little bit and start with the anatomy.

The Sciatic Nerve and What Is Sciatica?

The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in your body. It comes out of the back of your pelvis and runs down the back of your thigh. 

It is about the size of your thumb, and when the sciatic nerve is inflamed or irritated it can cause pain, numbness, weakness or other symptoms anywhere from your low back to your foot and toes. 

  

  

What is Sciatica?  It may be all Manner of Strange Sensations

The sciatic nerve is formed by three nerve roots just after they exit the lower lumbar spine.

Down in your lower thigh it starts branching out into the smaller nerves that go into your lower leg and foot.

If it is being disturbed anywhere along the way it may cause pain and other symptoms that radiate all the way down into your toes. Because it is a nerve it can cause all sorts of strange sensations.

What is Sciatica?  Most Commonly it is Pain in Your Buttock 

If the nerve roots that form the sciatic nerve are being irritated that can also cause pain that radiates down through the sciatic nerve and into the branches that it divides into. 


When the sciatic nerve is irritated that is sciatica.

What is Sciatica? Sciatica is not a diagnosis. It is a symptom that occurs whenever the sciatic nerve or the nerve roots that form the sciatic nerve are disturbed. 

Many different things can cause sciatica. 

Image thanks to Gray's Anatomy via Wikimedia Commons

Causes of Sciatica include:

Lumbar Spinal Stenosis

When the nerves in your lumbar spine are being irritated by arthritis or other degenerative changes.

Piriformis Syndrome

When the sciatic nerve is compressed by tightness or spasm of the piriformis muscle.

Bulging Lumbar Disc

When a bulging or degenerative disc is pressing on a nerve in your lumbar spine.

Herniated Lumbar Disc

A herniated disc fragments may cause sciatica by pressing on nerve

Your Wallet

Common with men that drive long distances, sitting on your wallet for hours at a time can irritate the sciatic nerve causing the symptoms of sciatica.

Symptoms of sciatica are:

• Pain is most common symptom of sciatica. Pain that may have a burning, buzzing, or aching "like a toothache" kind of quality. It is most often felt in your buttock on one or both side and radiating down into the back of your thighs. 

Pain and other symptoms may also extend down into your lower leg feet and toes. 

• Electrical Sensations or "Lightning Bolts" shooting down through your leg can occur when a nerve is very inflamed or is suddenly pinched in your lumbar spine.


• Muscle Weakness from nerve injury that may be very minor as in "my foot always drags" or very severe causing you to fall.


• Tenderness that makes it difficult to sit on your buttock or pain in the back of your thigh when sitting on the toilet.


Testing for Sciatica

There are no xrays, MRIs or lab tests that will prove that you have sciatica.

However, you can test for sciatica with A Straight Leg Raise Test.

Start by lying on the floor on your back with your legs out straight

Have a friend or partner raise one of your legs up to 90°while keeping your knee straight


This maneuver will stretch the sciatic nerve and if it reproduces the pain in your buttock or the back of your thigh that is a positive sign for sciatica.

When You Have Sciatica

When you begin having symptoms of sciatica there are things that can be done. If your symptoms are mild over the counter anti-inflammatory drugs may be helpful along with some gentle stretching exercises.

Check the web pages listed below for sciatica home treatments.


Sciatica Home Treatments

If your symptoms are more severe and prevent normal activities you will need to be seen by your doctor. He can evaluate you an order the appropriate tests to determine what is causing your symptoms.

After determining an accurate diagnosis you can be started on an appropriate treatment plan and be on the road to recovery.



  

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