What is sciatica and what causes it? Sciatica is characterised by pain and weakness in the lower back, the leg including the calf, the foot, and even the toes. It is the result of a malfunctioning of the sciatic nerve which is the largest nerve in the body controlling muscle movement in the lower leg, the thigh, back of the knee, and the foot sole.
In a review available on PubMed Health, it is described as being a “symptom defined as unilateral, well-localised leg pain with a sharp, shooting or burning quality that approximates to the dermatomal distribution of the sciatic nerve down the posterior lateral aspect of the leg, and normally radiates to the foot or ankle“.
It will often be termed differently by different experts, from lumbosacral radicular syndrome, ischias, nerve root pain, and nerve root entrapment.
The condition can be caused by a number of factors such as:
- Herniated disc pressing against a nerve root (a ruptured intervertebral disk)
- Another condition called spinal stenosis characterised by the narrowing of the spinal canal
- An injury like pelvic fracture
- Tumours (rare)
Having a series of possible causes implies that the treatment (this might involve exercises, medicines, or even surgery in rare cases) of each patient will differ with respect to the cause. However, in some cases, the actual cause is not found. Often enough, the patient is relieved by sciatica on his own as the pain gradually subsides and disappears in a matter of days (sometimes weeks). Around 20 to 30% of the people affected by the condition might have the problems persisting for 1 or 2 years, though.
Its symptoms will mainly be radiating leg pain and related disabilities
For diagnosis purposes, history taking is coupled with physical examination to identify the disease. Patients will be asked to report the areas of pain, and mostly they will mention radiating pain in the leg if they are indeed suffering from sciatica.