If you wonder what sciatic pain feels like, you can quickly discern the discomfort, as the pain is felt through the back of the legs and back. To understand why this happens, you have to know something about the sciatic nerve.
This nerve extends from the bottom part of the spinal cord and passes down the back of the high. It separates just above the knee joint. This nerve’s diameter is the largest of the nerves in the human body.
What causes sciatic pain?
Sciatic pain results from an underlying medical cause, which can be one of various health issues. The following causes give you a better idea of how the pain occurs.
1. Lumbar Herniated Disc
A herniated disc results when the inner material of the disc herniates or leaks. The herniation pinches the nerve root. Herniated discs are called pinched nerves, protruding discs or bulging disc. Sciatica is the most common symptom associated with the condition.
2. Isthmic Spondylolisthesis
This condition involves a stress fracture causes one vertebra to slip over another vertebra. When this occur, a pinched nerve or sciatic may develop.
3. Degenerative Disc Disease
Degeneration is a natural part of aging. If discs have degenerated in the lower back, they can irritate the sciatic nerve. Inflammatory proteins within the disc may also become exposed, triggering irritation of the adjacent nerve root(s).
4. Lumbar Spinal Stenosis
This condition results from a narrowing of the spine’s canal. A natural part of the aging process, lumbar spinal stenosis commonly develops in conjunction with arthritis or spinal arthritis, all of which can trigger sciatic nerve pain.
5. Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction
The sacroiliac joint, found at the bottom of the spinal column, can cause nerve irritation or sciatic pain.
6. Piriformis Syndrome
The piriformis muscle, located in the buttock, may also irritate or pinch the nerve root of the sciatic nerve, leading to sciatic-type pain.
If a fracture occurs in the area of the lumbar vertebra, one of the symptoms may include sciatica. Usually, the vertebra has been traumatized and the bone has weakened as a result. This may occur after a serious accident, such as a car crash or a fall.
While this cause is rare, any lower back infection may affect the nerve root and trigger sciatica.
Sciatic pain during pregnancy also can shift the center of gravity. When this happens, sciatica may result.
10. Scar Tissue
Also called epidural fibrosis, scar tissue may compress the lumbar nerve root and cause sciatica pain.
11. Muscle Strain
If the muscles in the back become inflamed or spasmodic, pressure may be placed on the nerve root, which leads to sciatica.
12. Spinal Tumor
In some rare instances, a spinal tumor may pinch the nerve root in the lower lumbar region. When this happens, the tumor usually is cancerous. This disease, at this point, has metastasized and spread to the pine.
Symptoms of sciatic pain
Sciatic symptoms may vary, depending on where the nerve root is compressed. For example, the following locations may be affected –
1. L4 nerve root
Usually, when located in this area, the symptoms of sciatic affect the thigh. Patients may have trouble straightening the leg or may have a reduced knee-jerk reflex.
2. L5 never root
In this area, the symptoms may appear between the ankle and big toe. Patients may fee numbness or pain toward the top of the foot, especially in the area between the big and second toes.
3. S1 nerve root
This area covers the outer portion of the foot. When pain is present, it may radiate to the toes. A patient often experiences weakness when trying to elevate their heel from the ground.
Some of the more common symptoms of sciatic nerve pain include the following:
- Constant nerve pain on one side of a leg or buttock but usually not on both sides.
- Pain that starts in the buttock or lower back and travels along the sciatic nerve – down the back part of the thigh into the lower leg or foot.
- Pain that is exceptionally sharp – never dull.
- A sensation of “pins and needles,” or a numbness or prickling feeling down the side of the leg.
- Numbness or weakness when moving the foot.
- A severe shooting-type pain in one leg, which makes walking or standing difficult.
- Pain in the toes, depending on the site where the sciatic nerve is affected.
- Lower back pain – not as severe as the leg pain.
The above symptoms may worsen after a sudden movement, or when a patient changes position – such as from sitting to standing.
Treatment Options for Sciatica
You can find one of several treatment options for sciatic nerve pain. Not only do sciatica pain stretches assist in alleviating the pain, a sciatica pain medication or a sciatic pain massage, when done in combination, can help.
Other treatment options include the following:
1. Epidural steroid injection
If the pain is severe, steroid injections can be used to alleviate the nerve pain. This temporary pain reliever is often prescribed with an exercise and conditioning program.
2. Heat and Ice
For acute sciatic pain, heat and ice pack can alleviate nerve discomfort during the initial phase. Apply the heat or ice pack for about 20 minutes, and repeat every two hours. While most patients use an ice pack at first, they often find more relief by using heat.
3. Spinal Cord Stimulation
Spinal cord stimulation (SCS) may help relieve the pain, even if other treatments have failed. This type of therapy is a proven safe and drug-free option for pain management and has been FDA-approved for adults suffering from chronic pain. The stimulation therapy is covered, as well by most insurance policies.
4. Pain Medication
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as naproxen or ibuprofen may reduce inflammation that often triggers the pain. Prescription medications and over-the-counter remedies are used to reduce the associated inflammation.
5. Chiropractic Manipulation
This form of therapy focuses on aligning the spinal column to alleviate sciatic pain.
Approved by the FDA, this therapy is often directed toward relieving lower back pain, including sciatica.
7. Massage Therapy
Certain massage treatments may assist in healing. Massage increases blood flow, relaxes the muscles, and relieves the body’s natural pain relievers called endorphins.