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What is Sciatica?


If you’ve been feeling a shooting pain going down your leg — or even a dull throb, you could be suffering from sciatica. It may also have become uncomfortable sitting, standing, maybe even walking. Over-the-counter pain relievers often offer little-to-no relief for the pain and discomfort. 

But what exactly is sciatica, and what can you do to resolve this infuriating pain? 

Sciatica isn’t fun, and it can even be quite painful. We understand — which is why we’ve put together this fact-filled post to give you the ins and outs of the condition — what it is, how some may get it, what you can do to prevent it, and if you’re diagnosed with it — what you can do to alleviate your pain.

What Exactly is Sciatica Anyway?

Sciatica is a common term that describes the symptoms of leg pain, tingling, or numbness caused by irritation, inflammation, or compression of one of five smaller nerves that branch off of a more significant nerve known as the sciatic nerve. This large nerve originates from your lower back and goes into each leg, dividing into five branches along the way. 

What Are Some of the Symptoms of Sciatica?

Sciatica symptoms usually occur when one or more of these branches become irritated, inflamed, or compressed. Sciatica symptoms can range from mild to severe, with pain typically radiating down your leg. The specific type of sciatica you have depends on where the sciatic nerve is compressed.

The nerve can become irritated due to sitting too long without moving, pressure on the sciatic nerve in your lower back from a herniated disc, spinal stenosis, arthritis, pregnancy, or obesity. Basically — any activity that puts pressure on this nerve can cause sciatica. The discomfort can start suddenly or come on gradually. The pain might be described as either sharp or dull, constant or intermittent.

What Are Some of the Causes of Sciatica?

People under age 45 are more likely to develop sciatica due to an injury, such as when lifting something heavy or getting into an awkward position to avoid sitting on a tack or thorn. Disc herniation is the most common cause of sciatica in people younger than 45 years old. Nerve irritation that leads to sciatica may also occur after you’ve had an infection.

Sciatica is most commonly caused by the compression of one of five sciatic nerves in your lower back. This can happen because of a herniated disc, bone spurs, narrowing of the spinal canal (spinal stenosis), or any other condition that affects the space around your sciatic nerve. 

Even obesity and pregnancy can put pressure on this vital nerve. You are more likely to have sciatica if you are middle-aged or older and involved in strenuous activities.

Other Sciatica Causes Include:

  • Sports injuries that injure the lower back or pelvis, such as a bad fall or car accident.
  • Muscle strain is caused by lifting something heavy or exercising too intensely.
  • Herniated disk causes sciatica when fragments from the ruptured outer ring of the disk press on nearby sciatic nerve roots where they exit the spine. In some cases, a herniated disk can irritate just one sciatic nerve branch, which may cause sciatic pain and/or numbness in your leg and foot.
  • Bone conditions such as arthritis, bony tumors (osteoid osteoma), and Paget’s disease. These disorders can affect the sciatic nerve where it passes through the pelvis, around the piriformis muscles, or both.
  • Spinal stenosis, a condition in which the spinal canal is too narrow to contain the sciatic nerve, sciatica symptoms are similar to sciatica caused by other conditions.

How Can Sciatica Be Treated?

It is recommended to visit your doctor if you think you are experiencing sciatic nerve pain. Your doctor will perform a physical examination and may order an imaging study, such as an MRI or CT scan, to determine the cause of sciatic nerve pain.

Many sciatica treatments aim to relieve pressure on the sciatic nerve by identifying and correcting the source of sciatica. Surgery is rarely required for sciatica because most causes can be treated without it. Mild or moderate sciatica cases involving compression of only one sciatic nerve may improve with nonsurgical treatments like medication (pain pills), steroid injections, physical therapy, stretching exercises, and bed rest. 

More severe forms of sciatica caused by herniated discs, sciatic nerve damage, or other causes may require additional sciatica treatment like medications (anti-inflammatories, analgesics), lifestyle changes (weight loss), and more extensive surgery.

The sciatica treatment that’s best for you will depend on the severity of your sciatica symptoms and on what caused them. A combination of treatments may be necessary for some people with sciatica. Your doctor can help determine which sciatica treatments are right for you.

Let Thunder Basin Orthopaedics Help You Overcome Sciatica Pain

Having a competent, attentive, and dependable orthopedic team on your side means the difference between a speedy, sustainable recovery and prolonged injury that has lasting repercussions. 

From our two locations in Douglas and Gillette, Thunder Basin Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine has served clients with prestigious care, compassionate service, and cutting-edge surgical technologies for years. 

We specialize in treating various orthopedic conditions, including sports injuries, fractures, and other traumatic injuries, degenerative joint disease, sprains, strains, tears, and more. Where possible, we also employ minimally invasive surgical techniques that produce the best outcomes while minimizing your downtime. 

If you’re currently experiencing pain or beginning to feel discomfort during your workout or even your daily routine, request an appointment today!