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What Causes Sciatica?

SciaticaSciatica pain is caused due to the compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve which branches from the lower back area through the hips and buttocks and down each leg. The main symptom associated with this condition is excruciating or shooting pain that radiates from your lower (lumbar) spine to your buttock and down the back of your leg. Other symptoms include:

  • Burning or tingling sensation down the leg
  • Muscle weakness, numbness or difficulty moving the leg or foot
  • Constant pain on one side of the buttock
  • Pain that makes it difficult to sit and stand up

The leading cause of sciatica is a “pinched nerve”. The nerve might be pinched either inside or outside of the spinal canal as it passes into the leg. Other common causes of the condition include:

  • Lumbar herniated disc – A herniated disc (or a slipped disc) occurs when the soft outer part of the disc ruptures or splits, causing the gel inside to bulge and protrude outwards between the vertebrae. If this presses against the sciatic nerve, it causes sciatica.
  • Spinal stenosis – This condition refers to the narrowing of the passage of the spinal canal. It is usually the result of age-related changes in the spine and occurs among adults above the age of sixty.
  • Degenerative disc diseaseDegenerative disc disease is a term used to describe the normal changes that occur in spinal discs due to aging. As you age, your discs (which acts as cushions between the vertebrae) can degenerate or breakdown. One or more degenerated discs in the lower back area can irritate a nerve root and cause sciatica.
  • Spondylolisthesis – This condition occurs when a small stress fracture causes one vertebrae to falls out of position on another, leading to compression of sciatic nerve. While the condition is mostly caused due to age-related or degenerative wear of the spinal joints, it can occur in younger people due to repeated or excessive bending of the spine or a spinal fracture.
  • Piriformis syndrome – When the piriformis muscle in the buttock becomes short, it put extra pressure on the sciatic nerve and irritates it.
  • Sacroiliac joint dysfunction – This condition occurs due to the irritation of the sacroiliac joint (SI joint) located at the bottom of the spine.

Generally, sciatica affects only one side of your body and severity of the pain would depend on the extent of tissue injury. The pain may start as a mild ache in the low back and buttocks and progress to a sharp or intense discomfort, going down the leg and the back of the thigh and the knee. In some cases, the pain extends into the calf and foot. Acute pain occurs suddenly and typically heals – without the need for treatment – within days or weeks. However, if the pain gets chronic and lasts for more than 3 months, it’s important to see a doctor. In leading healthcare centers, a sciatica pain management program would include effective non-invasive treatments that can relieve symptoms and help you get back to normal activity soon.

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