Sciatica is pain caused by irritation/inflammation/injury to the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back through the hips, buttocks and legs.

Sciatica Symptoms

Pain from sciatica can occur in various locations along the nerve pathway. It is most commonly experienced in the lower back, buttocks, and back of the thigh and calf.

The intensity of the pain can range from a dull ache to a sharp, burning sensation. At times, it may feel like a sudden jolt or electric shock. Sitting for prolonged periods or performing actions such as coughing or sneezing can exacerbate the pain. Sciatica generally impacts only one side of the body.

In addition to pain, some individuals may also experience numbness, tingling, or muscle weakness in the affected leg or foot. It is possible to feel pain in one area of the leg while experiencing numbness in another.

Sciatica symptoms may comprise:

  • Medium to intense pain in the lower back, buttock & leg
  • Weakness/numbness in your lower back, buttock, leg or feet
  • Pain that increases with movement or loss of movement
  • Tingling or “pins and needles” sensation in the legs, toes or feet
  • Loss of bladder & bowel control (in extreme instances)

Sciatica Causes

Sciatica causes can include many medical conditions such as:

  • A slipped/herniated disc that puts pressure on a nerve root is the most common cause of sciatica. If a disk herniates in a vertebra of the lower back, it can pinch the sciatic nerve.
  • Degenerative disc disease is the natural wear & tear of the discs between the vertebrae of the spine. As the discs wear down, their height decreases and the nerve passageways become narrower, causing spinal stenosis. This results in pressure being exerted on the sciatic nerve roots.
  • Spondylolisthesis occurs when one vertebra slips out of alignment with the vertebra above it, narrowing the opening via which the nerve exits. The extended spinal bone can then put pressure on the sciatic nerve.
  • Osteoarthritis wherein bone spurs can develop in ageing spines and pinch lower back nerves.
  • Injury-inflicted trauma to the sciatic nerve or lumbar spine. Tumors in the lumbar spinal canal which pinch the sciatic nerve.

Sciatica Diagnosis

The healthcare professional will begin by reviewing your symptoms and medical history, followed by a physical examination. The physical examination will comprise the healthcare professional assessing your muscle strength, flexibility and reflexes.
This will be done by making you perform tasks like walking on toes or heels, rising from a squatting position, and lifting your legs one at a time while lying down. Typically, pain associated with sciatica will get severe during these movements.
Once the physical exam concludes, the healthcare professional will have an idea about your condition. To confirm the diagnosis, one or more of the following imaging tests will be conducted:

A spine X-ray could be done to check for an overgrowth of bone that could be putting pressure on the sciatic nerve.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) can help reveal herniated disks and pinched nerves by generating detailed cross-sectional images of the back.

CT Myelogram
A CT scan could be performed with the injection of a dye into the spinal canal prior to taking the X-rays. This will make it simpler to view the spinal cord & nerves in the images produced.

Electromyography (EMG)
EMG will help measure the electrical impulses generated by the nerves and the subsequent muscle responses. It can be used to determine the severity of a nerve root injury.

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