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What is Sciatica?

Sciatic nerve pain is one of the most common lower back pain complaints with a wide range of symptoms and conditions. This variance comes from the length of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in your body, about the diameter of your finger. The nerve begins in the lumbar spinal cord, which is found in the lower back at the 4th and 5th lumbar vertebra (L4, L5) and in the beginning of the sacrum segments. The nerve goes through the sciatic foramen to the back of the hip and into the lower part of the gluteus maximus. The sciatic nerve continues down the back of the thigh and behind the knee traveling down the hamstring, calf, and ending in the feet.

Sciatic Nerve Pain

Sciatic pain or sciatica is the term used to describe discomfort associated with the sciatic nerve. The pain is typically sharp and begins in the buttock and upper thigh region and travels down the back of the leg. This discomfort can radiate behind the knee or all the way down the leg into the toes.


Sciatica symptoms greatly vary from case to case in regards to the location and the sensations shooting or constant pain.

To relieve sciatica pain, it is important to know that sciatica is a symptom of an underlying problem. This symptom may be related to the spinal cord or the piriformis muscle. When the sciatic nerve is being irritated or compressed, in order to relieve sciatica pain the initial cause needs to be diagnosed for proper treatment.

Sciatica refers to the pain experienced along the sciatic nerve, which is the longest nerve in the body. The nerve begins in the lumbar spinal cord, found in the lower back, and extends into the buttock and upper thigh region branching down into both legs and to the bottom of the feet. When compressed, the pain can be unbearable inhibiting everyday activities.

Radiculopathy is the clinical diagnosis term for when a disc from the vertebral column is protruding, placing pressure on nerve root (radicular nerve).

Symptoms of Sciatica

Symptoms of sciatica vary from severe and debilitating pain to a short term twinge of discomfort. Pain may reside in one leg or both causing bilateral sciatica. Symptoms vary from gradual to sudden and constant to infrequent. With exercise the symptoms may be aggravated. Twisting actions such as golf or tennis can create a flare up. Sitting for extended periods of time can also exasperate the pain.

For some people, the pain from sciatica can be severe and debilitating. For others, the pain might be infrequent and irritating, but has the potential to get worse.

If the symptoms are progressive weakness in the leg, severe pain or loss of sensation or bowel or bladder disturbances, this may be cauda equina syndrome and immediate medical attention is needed.

Symptoms of Sciatica

  • Shooting pain behind the leg
  • Numbness or dull pain
  • Pins and needles or tingling
  • Burning sensation
  • Cramping in the thigh area


Causes of Sciatica

Causes of sciatica are attributed to several factors and often can be the result of a pinched nerve. Pain can arise after a serious car accident, a fall, over excretion or a back injury. Typically this occurs in older adults and not in the teenage years. Pinched nerves can be a result of the following:

Causes of Sciatica

  • Herniated disc- Once this occurs, pressure is put on the nerve root causing the sciatic pain.
  • Piriformis Syndrome- The piriformis, a small muscle deep within the buttocks, can become tight or have spasms.
  • Spinal Stenosis- Here the spinal canal begins to narrow and puts pressure on the nerves.
  • Spondylolisthesis- This is when a vertebra slips and becomes out of line and narrows the opening for the nerve.
  • Degenerative Disc Disease- Degenerated disc impinges on a nerve root in the lower back.

Other less common causes are sacroiliitis, lumbar facet joint syndrome, syndrome, liolumbar syndrome, and lumbar spinal stenosis.


Treatment of Sciatica

Treatment to relieve sciatica pain begins by lessening the discomfort and increasing mobility. Depending on the severity of the pain and the source, various treatments exist to get you back to feeling 100%. With the onset of pain, begin with these few simple steps.

Home treatment of sciatica may be just what you need if you have a minor case. In the first 48 hours, apply ice to the pain to help reduce the inflammation. Begin with 10 minutes on the area, 10 minutes off and repeat for a total of three times. These first few hours are crucial, so start acting fast.

Keep moving, not sprinting, but simply allow for blood flow. Do not stay seated for an extended period of time. Every thirty to forty five minutes stand up and do a short lap around the office or your home. Too much inactivity can create more tightness. Do you feel tighter when you wake up in the morning? This is because the body has tightened from not moving and hopefully once you move about it will begin to loosen. Another option is to try sleeping on a firmer mattress or even the floor if you can stand it.

Do light stretching when your muscles are lose and warm. Try stretching the piriformis muscle, as it has a close relation with the sciatic nerve. For this, sit in a chair with your feet touching the floor. Cross your right leg, so your right ankle is sitting on the top of your left knee. Lean forward while elongating your torso and bending towards your right leg. Hold this position for 10 seconds and repeat a few more times. Then do the same on the left leg. Do what feels right and stretch as far as feels comfortable.

Whether the condition is a recent occurrence or a long lingering chronic annoyance, call the Running Doctor to find the source of your problem and to be pain free. Call 678.705.2709 to schedule a time and begin a plan that will help relieve the sciatic pain.

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