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What Is Sciatica?

What Is Sciatica?

Sciatica is a medical condition related to the sciatic nerve – the longest and widest nerve in the lower body. It originates in the hip region and innervates the buttocks, thighs, and lower extremities. It is a dominant and primary nerve that supplies nerve signals to the muscles of the calf, back portion of the knee, ankle, and sole of the foot.

Along its course, the sciatic nerve gives many branches and provides nerve supply to different parts of the body. Furthermore, it is a mixed-function nerve, which means that it provides both sensory and motor nerve signals to the body parts it innervates. In simple words, it enables muscles to feel pain and pressure as well as allow muscular movement.

Due to its long course and width, the sciatic nerve is prone to damage. Any sort of trauma to this nerve can cause several symptoms to develop – including pain in the buttocks, hips, lower back, thighs, and lower extremities, muscle weakness, tingling sensations, numbness, and reflex abnormalities. Although the damage can happen anywhere along its course, the symptoms are more prevalent in the lower leg. Besides pain, it greatly reduces the quality of life by preventing a patient from getting up after sitting, bending the knee and rotating/bending the foot.

What Does Sciatica Feel Like?

Most people experience sciatica symptoms along the path of the sciatic nerve. The term sciatica is often described as presence of one or more of the following symptoms:

Pain

Sciatica has a characteristic pain. Most patients describe it as shooting pain or constant burning sensation in the buttocks, thighs, and lower legs. The pain is not static and usually radiates down the leg and involves the front and back of the shins, ankles and feet.

Numbness

Numbness in the lower extremities is a common symptom of sciatica. It is often accompanied by weakness, cramps, and tingling (pin prick) sensations in the feet. Numbness may also lead to difficulty in sensing pressure and pain in the feet, increasing the chances of other injuries and trauma.

One-sided symptoms

The pain, numbness, and other associated symptoms of sciatica typically affect one leg. It is due to the fact that most of the causes of sciatica are unilateral and affect one side of the leg. Some patients can develop symptoms in both legs, but the incidence is quite low.

Posture induced symptoms

Certain posture exacerbates the pain and other symptoms of sciatica. You may feel a sharp increase in pain and burning while trying to stand up, lying down straight, coughing, or bending/twisting the spine. Applying a heating pad over the rear pelvis or walking is shown to reduce the severity of the symptoms.

When Sciatica Is Serious? 

Cauda equina syndrome, soft tissue infections, or spinal tumors are some conditions and causes of sciatica that may cause serious health complications. Some of them include;

  • Bowel and/or bladder dysfunction
  • Leg weakness and progressive neurological symptoms (numbness or tingling)
  • Pain and other symptoms in both legs
  • Low libido (sexual desire) or sexual dysfunction

If you experience such symptoms, immediately consult your neurophysician or family doctor. A prompt medical evaluation and treatment is also necessary If your sciatica is secondary to trauma or it is associated with anorexia (loss of appetite) and fever.

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