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Sciatic Nerve Pain - Diagnosis, Causes and Symptoms


What is Nerve Pain?

Nerve pain, known in medical terms as Neuralgia, is pain that is felt along the path of any nerve, or nerves, in the body. Nerve pain has a number of causes including diabetes, certain infections or diseases like shingles, pressure on the nerve by bone, tumors or swelling and trauma or injury. In many patients, the exact cause of their neuralgia is not known. While neuralgia is most common in older people, it can occur to anyone at any age. Sciatic nerve pain occurs when the large sciatic nerve is affected.

Symptoms of Sciatic Nerve Pain
Typical symptoms of nerve pain are muscle weakness in the affected area or problems with the normal function of that part of the body; sensitivity or numbness of the skin in the affected area; tingling, numbness or pins and needles in the feet and toes, pain along the pathway of the affected nerve which may always be in the same place, may be a sharp pain that is intermittent or a constant burning type of sensation.

Movement may be difficult or painful and pressure on the affected area is also painful. With sciatic nerve pain, because the sciatic nerve travels from the lower back to the feet, pain can be felt at any spot along this long path. Typically, sciatic nerve pain is felt as pain in the lower back, buttocks or as a shooting pain that travels from the hip, through the back of the thigh and down the leg. Movement is difficult and walking, in particular, is almost impossible. Any activity that compresses the spine makes the pain worse; any movement that stretches the spine alleviates the pain.

Causes of Sciatic Nerve Pain
The most common cause of sciatica is disc herniation; this is when one of the cushioning discs, which are between each vertebra in the spine, ruptures or bulges so that it presses on the root of the sciatic nerve. Sciatic nerve pain can also be caused by sitting for long periods in the same position, like when traveling, lifting heavy weights or working in a forward-bent position for long periods as when gardening.

Some sciatica is caused by an accident, injury or even certain types of exercise. Pregnancy is another cause of sciatica. Compression of a nerve, inflammation, nerve degeneration and arthritis can all lead to sciatic nerve pain.

Diagnosis of Sciatic Nerve Pain
Because sciatica is a symptom not a disease, sciatic nerve pain needs to be diagnosed by a medical professional so that you know what is causing the pain; the cause needs to be treated to relieve the sciatica in the long term. Diagnosis is obtained with a physical medical examination when your medical history will be taken.

You need to be honest and give a complete account of your history and recent activities to help your doctor diagnose your condition correctly. Sometimes a doctor will order an x-ray, MRI or CT scan to determine the exact cause of your sciatic nerve pain.

Pinched Nerve
The term 'pinched nerve' is commonly used to describe nerve pain but it is only one cause of injury to a nerve. There are many causes of nerve pain, as we have discussed, and a pinched nerve is only one of these. This term is correctly applied to an injury which compresses or constricts a nerve in any part of the body.

Common injures caused by a pinched nerve include tennis elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome and many work-related injuries. The sciatic nerve has a branched root at the lumbar spine any one of these could be 'pinched' and causing sciatic nerve pain.

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