Sciatica: Symptoms & Causes

by Ishani Bose last updated -

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Sciatica refers to a localized pain in the lower back that may often extend down to one of the legs, through the buttocks. This throbbing sensation may be rapid and it fades quickly or could even remain present for weeks. In most cases, this strong, lancing pain will only affect one of your legs, but rarely both, due to the underlying cause of this condition.

What is Sciatica?

Sciatica is derived from the nerve that causes this pain, the sciatic nerve. When this nerve is impinged or impacted in some way, the pain will appear at some level of severity. For many people, the pain is only temporary, but recurring problems with sciatica are common, and often worse if they aren’t addressed or treated in some way. Due to the location of the pain, many people misdiagnose sciatica as a problem with the leg, whereas the actual nerve impingement is happening in the lower back. In some cases, the effects can even be felt at the foot and lower leg.

Symptoms of Sciatica

As briefly mentioned above, the most common symptoms of sciatica is a shooting pain in the buttocks and legs. The other common symptoms are numbness in the buttocks, weakness in the legs, lower back pain, hip pain and difficulty in standing up.

Leg Weakness

One of the most common symptoms of sciatica is a slight weakness or muscle impairment in the leg, as though your hamstring muscles aren’t working properly.

Hip Pain

Although the pain is typically located in the buttocks and legs, it can cause unusual walking patterns, which will result in inflammation in the tendons near the hips, as per a report published in the Arthroscopy: The Journal of Arthroscopic & Related Surgery. It can be difficult to realize when you are walking slightly “off”, but hip pain is usually a good indicator.

Standing Up

You may find it difficult to stand up if you are suffering from sciatica, as this type of nerve pain can weaken the contraction abilities of the legs, so standing for long periods could be painful, as can the act of rising from a sitting position.

Lower Back Pain

Mild lower back pain is not uncommon with sciatica and may be one of the first indications that the nerve is being impinged, even before the effects are felt lower in the legs and buttocks.

Numbness

You may feel a numbness in the back of your thighs or buttocks, or tingling in the toes and feet.

Causes of Sciatica

Sciatica is directly caused by pressure on the sciatic nerve, but this pressure can be the result of various reasons, such as muscle knots, herniated discs, piriformis muscle irritation, hamstring syndrome, joint dysfunction and posture problems, among others. The direct cause of sciatica can be difficult to diagnose, as the condition may be a combination of more than one factor.

Muscle Knots

According to a report published in the Journal of Canadian Chiropractic Association, most of the sciatica conditions arise from the muscle knots in the lower back, which can cause pressure on the sciatic nerve. This could be caused by an excessive amount of exercise, muscle inflammation, bending or lifting in strange ways, or other common reasons behind Charley horses or muscle cramping.

Posture Problems

If you regularly crouch or have poor back posture, you are putting excess strain on your lower back muscles, which can become inflamed and cause pressure on the sciatic nerve.

Pregnancy

According to a report published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, many women experience shooting pains down their legs and buttocks while pregnant, but this is a form of sciatica. The fetus causes excess pressure in the abdomen as certain organs and tissues move to accommodate in the womb. This will often result in pressure on the trigger nerve, resulting in shooting pain in either of the legs.

Muscle Spasms

Muscle spasms can be caused by everything from nutrient deficiency to an irritating injury, but these sorts of spasms can be unexpected and can cause kinks or strains in the back. Essentially, this results in another form of a muscle knot that is linked to sciatica.

Lumbar Spinal Stenosis

In this condition, the spinal canal narrows near the bottom of the back, causing the spinal nerves to be strangled in the lower back. This will lead to irritation and pain in the sciatic nerve, say a team of researchers from the Department of Neurology, Ullevål Hospital, Oslo, Norway.

Slipped Discs

Most people think this is the main cause of sciatica, but that isn’t true. According to a report published by Dr. Wilco C. H. Jacobs, Dr. Maurits van Tulder, et al., in the European Spine Journal, when an intervertebral disc begins to slip out of its assigned location, it will squeeze through some gaps in the vertebrae and press on the sciatic nerve. This is relatively uncommon, even if the disc herniates.

Hamstring Syndrome

In rare cases, the fibrotic bands can irritate the sciatic nerve and constrain it near, where the hamstring connects to the hips. This can result in constant or long-term pain, which is difficult to treat.

Piriformis Muscle

Deep in the buttocks is the piriformis muscle, and it is located near the area where the sciatic nerve passes down to the legs. If the sciatic nerve and the piriformis muscle come in contact, or if the nerve actually grows through the muscle, sciatica symptoms are very high.

Sciatica can be prevented and even cured by taking a few remedial measures. However, it is always advisable to consult a medical professional before taking medication, food supplements or any of the other remedial measures when pregnant or breastfeeding.

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About the Author

An alumnus of St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, Ishani Bose has worked as a reporter/features writer for several leading newspapers and organizations in India. It was her love for food, health, and wellness that brought her to Organic Facts. As a Content & Culinary Outreach Specialist, she is responsible for developing and managing the website’s recipe section. An avid Instagrammer who knows the latest social media trends, Ishani helps strategize and create authentic content for the website’s social media platforms. When not writing or cooking, you’ll find her reading, traveling, soaking herself in music, arts, and culture in every way possible. Ishani has completed an online program on “Introduction to Food and Health” by Stanford University, US. 

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