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What is Sciatica?
Definition of Sciatica
Sciatica Symptoms
Sciatic Nerve Pain
Sciatica Treatment
Sciatica Pain
Disc Herniation
Exercises and Stretches
Pinched Sciatic Nerve Relief
Sciatica and Pregnancy
Piriformis Syndrome
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Sciatica Physical Therapy
Chronic Sciatica
Sciatica Tests & Exams
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Sciatica & Chiropractic Treatment
Sciatica and Surgery
Degenerative Disc Disease
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Acupuncture & Sciatica

What is Sciatica?

Sciatica is irritation of the sciatic nerve which results in pain, numbness and tingling. Sciatica pain is typically felt in the lower back radiating down the back of the thigh to below the knee. The pain may be felt as a cramp, as shooting pain down the leg or tingling in the leg or foot. Some patients report that the pain intensifies with coughing or sneezing, and bending the knees or squatting may also make it worse.

To better understand the condition, it is helpful to know a little bit about sciatica anatomy. The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in your body, starting as five pairs of nerve roots in the lower or lumbar spine and extending through the buttocks and down to the lower leg. It lies near the sacrum (the bottom vertebrae), the back of the pelvis, the back of the thighs, behind the knee and smaller branch nerves travel all the way to your feet.

Its purpose is twofold - to send signals to the leg muscles from the brain for movement and also sends information back to the brain about what is happening in the leg. If there is a problem with the sciatic nerve the brain will receive the signal as pain.

Many people will experience sciatica at some point in their lives but not everyone will have it develop into a chronic condition. Some patients are surprised by their sciatic pain as they were not aware there was any problem in the lumbar spine.

The most common cause of sciatica is a herniated vertebra which pinches the sciatic nerve, causing pain. A herniated disc is when the spinal disc, which acts as a cushion between the bones, or vertebra, of the spine, ruptures and causes it to push out from its place between the vertebrae. This causes irritation and compression to the nerves as the disc pushes into the space where the nerves lie.

It is important to see your doctor when pain of any kind strikes because the correct diagnosis needs to be made so that the most appropriate treatment can be started. Not all back pain can be attributed to sciatica; your doctor will need to get a complete history of your pain, do a physical exam and do certain tests to determine whether you have sciatica. Sometimes an x-ray or MRI may be ordered but these might not be necessary.

The treatment your doctor advises will be aimed at reducing the impact on the sciatic nerve. Anti-inflammatory drugs will help to ease any inflammation around the nerve, muscle relaxants will allow the muscles to relax and allow the herniated disc to return to its normal position and rest will help the body recover. As the sciatic pain reduces, your doctor may send you for physiotherapy for specific exercises to strengthen the core muscles around the spine. Surgery is seldom needed and only for severe, recurring cases of sciatica.

Between 80% and 90% of patients make a full recovery after an attack of sciatica with no on-going damage to the sciatic nerve. Many of these patients will not have another episode of the condition, particularly when they include regular, moderate exercise in their lifestyle.

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