Sciatica is thought to be one of the most common causes of lower back pain. It always comes with severe and sometimes sharp pain in the leg and may occur anywhere from the hip to the heel, but mostly along the sciatic nerve itself – which originates at the bottom of your lumbar spine (lower back) and travels down into your thighs.
While sciatica is not dangerous, it can be very painful and bothersome – making it difficult to do anything but rest in bed. Most patients will tell you that it’s a lot like having a severe case of the flu or a muscle sprain.
What is Sciatica?
Sciatica is that shooting nerve pain that travels from your lower back down through the buttock and leg. It’s caused by inflammation of the sciatic nerve – a large nerve that runs from the spine through the buttock and down the back of each leg to about mid-calf.
The pressure within spinal discs leaks out into surrounding tissues causing pressure on adjacent nerves and swelling in muscles, irritation on blood vessels, etc., which then results in pain. Normally it is felt along the pathway of a particular nerve or collection of related nerves such as the sciatic nerve, where there will be an area of severe pain, typically at or just below one or both piriformis (hip) muscles near your gluteal fold (the crack between your buttocks).
The sciatic nerve extends from the lower back to the foot, so the pressure on this nerve can cause intense pain in one or both legs and is often referred to as sciatica. Sciatica will normally occur with other back problems. The pain travels down through the buttock, continues down through the thigh and knee into the leg until it reaches its end at each of our feet.
In some very rare cases, patients may experience severe enough pain to collapse their leg and seek a wheelchair for mobility needs. Other causes of sciatica are herniated disc, degenerative disc disease, spondylolisthesis, etc. All these conditions can also result in piriformis syndrome.
What Could Cause Sciatica?
Sciatica (lower back pain with leg pain) is a condition that generally begins with a sharp shooting pain in one buttock or hip that radiates down the back of the thigh to the calf and ankle. Over time, this sciatic leg pain may become less severe and move from one side to another, but it often doesn’t go away completely once it starts.
The primary cause of this condition is either a herniated disc, narrowing of space surrounding the spinal cord, or bone spurs. All three conditions result in compression of the sciatic nerve, which may cause severe and persistent pain in one or both legs.
Lower back pain is also a major result of the inflammation of joints and muscles, leg cramps, arthritis, injured nerves due to polyneuropathy from diabetes, or other forms of neuropathies such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
Sciatica can also be caused by prolonged sitting on hard surfaces such as concrete floors, long trips in cars, etc. This could result in very bad burning sensations into your thighs which will cause excruciating leg pains that travel down through your knees into your calves until they reach their ending points at the bottom of your feet.
How Long Does It Last?
Several mechanisms can explain sciatica. One of them is a herniated disc (slipped disc). This is where there is inflammation of the sciatic nerve as it tries to pass through an otherwise narrow spinal canal – causing pressure on the nerve roots and resulting in pain as above.
Sciatica can last from four to six weeks or longer depending upon the cause of the pain. You will want to get back into your normal routine as soon as possible; don’t overdo it, though, or you could make the sciatic pain worse.
There are two types of symptoms associated with back pain from sciatica. One type of symptom has to do with the sciatic nerve itself, while the other is related directly or indirectly to the disc in your back caused by inflammation of the surrounding tissues. Symptoms can be a dull ache, sharp shooting pain like an electric shock going through your leg, and sometimes you may even have radiating pain down your buttock (or into the thigh) and even numbness or tingling in the foot or toes.
Pain that occurs from the compression of your sciatic nerve on its way from your back down through the bottom of the buttock – usually only affects one side; not both sides at once as well as being accompanied by numbness in the affected side as well as weakness in your leg if it’s severe enough.
If you are experiencing painful symptoms from sciatica, we can help. Call us today at 205-637-1363.